Monday, May 31, 2010

The Green Land of the Northwest

No, not Greenland...the large island off the northeast coast of North America. I'm referring to the amazing green-ness of Portland, Oregon. We're visiting here to attend the graduation of our daughter, Nurse Treat. Her dad always says, "She puts the "treat" in treatment." So, I'll call her Nurse Treat. She has worked very hard for two years to finish her BS, working full-time and going to school and this semester she has also had to do clinicals, which means on-the-job, following people around and watching them, taking notes, etc. etc. But still working full-time--she did clinicals in her "spare" time. Whew. So, it is a big, big deal. I salute her.

I'm enjoying the green. It has rained so much this year that Las Vegas, and the desert around it, is greener than you can imagine. But is green--outrageously, fluorescently, and endlessly. As I flew up here, I watched out the window as we crossed over the Great Basin, so many shades of brown and beige. Then, we had clouds blocking the way, but as we came down under the clouds to land in Oregon---ZOWIE!! The GREEN!

We went to the rose gardens since the Rose Festival is this week. They are magnificent, and the area surrounding the gardens is a verdant wonderland. We went to a Chinese garden this morning. Serene, orderly, extremely lovely. Then, after a barbeque held in our daughter's honor by her friend and co-worker, we drove up the highway for a bit to see wild Oregon, Multnomah Falls. I've never driven in the Columbia Gorge, and this was about 20 miles up in the gorge. Oh My. Talk about green and, in vivid constrast to the rose gardens and the Chinese garden, it was wild. Again, green is everywhere, ferns, moss, leaves, vines. What a place.

Tomorrow I return to the desert. I still like it. It is spare and has a pleasing simpleness about it that is soothing and calming. However, when I need a change, I'll be on the plane back to Portland to soak, revel and loll in the lushness of the Green Land of the Northwest.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Happy Birthday Lil' Dude

It was just about this same time of day, four years ago that we got a phone call announcing his arrival. It was a little confusing, because he wasn't due for another three weeks. So, when his dad called to say he'd arrived, I couldn't understand what he was talking about. Then, he told us the whole story of the emergency c-section, because of the hemorrhaging...It was scary and dreadful and wonderful and thrilling simultaneously. New Grandson!! Daughter snatched back from the brink of death!! Ahhhggg!

We'd already been doing exciting, scary stuff. CoolGuy had been recovering from surgery and then a setback occured requiring a couple of trips to the ER (and the near throttling of a doctor by myself) and a second surgery to solve that problem. So we'd already been a little stressed out anyway. But this made all the wretched stuff CoolGuy had gone through seem small.

We headed up to Utah to visit. Plus, my mother was dying. So, we took the Big Sister and went up to Wyoming to see her, and then returned to the desert so I could go back to school. Track break was over. Two weeks later, my mom did pass and we were on the road again. Lil'Dude and his exhausted mother came to bid farewell to Great-Grandma.

We are pleased to have no emergencies (knock on wood) at this time. We have enjoyed the person who came to live with us through that precipitous debut, and I love that he asks when he can come back to visit Grandpa and Grandma again. Anytime, Lil' Dude, anytime!!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

End of the Year

It must be near the end of the school year. I just spent two consecutive days in my classroom until 9:00 P.M. Papers must be graded and grades posted. Comments must be typed onto the report cards so the administrators can proofread them. "Parent report cards" must be typed read that right. The legislature created a form that we teachers type in S or N for several categories that parents are expected to help us with in educating their children. (I always considered that I was my children's main teacher and the school helped me.) The categories are like: less than 2 unexcused absences per trimester; homework consistently signed and completed; attended parent conference; participated in some activity with child (it is wide open: get a library card, field trip, read every night, school events, etc.) It is one more thing to type, print and stuff into the envelope.

[I always get at least one envelope returned after reports go out that has never even been opened! The kid's gotten the parent to sign the outside, and the parent didn't look at what it was???]

I'm in a particular rush this year because even though the last day isn't until next Wednesday, I will be out of town Sat-Tues to attend the college graduation of our daughter with her BS in nursing in Portland, Oregon. [YEAH DAUGHTER!!]

So, I must have everything printed and stuffed and done by Friday so I can get on the plane Saturday morning. I'll return on Tuesday night late, and then Wednesday, I'll go to school for the Last Day of Madness. It's over at noon! Tuesday the awards assembly is being held and my co-workers will read mine off for me. So I have to have them all printed and put in order too by Friday night.

It'll happen. It always does. And I always marvel that we get every single little bit of it done each time. And then...I can relax.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Family History

Since it is my sister's birthday...I thought I'd write a blog about her. I'd been thinking all week what I could write, since I told a lot of it before. Then I sat down at the computer to type and was interrupted by CoolGuy calling, "Come and talk to these sisters--it's about Star Valley." I went out to the garage where he's been putting his motorcycle back together for about a week, so the door was up and the bicycling Mormon missionary Hermanas saw him and started up a conversation.

He said he was a member and then it got around to being from Wyoming and one of them said, "My relatives are from Star Valley." She named the name---it was my mom's maiden name. So that's when I was interrupted from the sister blog.

After a bit of unraveling, we determined that she was, indeed, a very near relative. Her grandpa is my cousin. I remember attending his wedding reception when I was about 10 years old. Small world, huh?? So I got out some photos of our mutual ancestor who'd joined the LDS church in Switzerland a century and a half ago and emigrated to Utah. Then, I showed her a photo of her great-great grandfather (and my grandfather) on his mission in England. It was surreal. I told her a few (sanitized) stories about her great-grandfather, my mom's brother and we laughed about the amazing coincidence of stopping by our house this afternoon. She and her companion are not assigned to our ward, they are affiliated with the Spanish speaking ward, so we would not have met in church. And even if we had, it would have been unlikely that she and I would have talked about Wyoming for any reason. Her dad grew up in Idaho, her mom grew up in California and Utah and she is from Cincinnati. Just one of those little serendipitous moments in life.

But, it is still the birthday and so I must write another small segment of her life. This marks 5 years since her sudden, untimely death and I need to reminisce. One of our jobs as children was to "stomp the wool,"which isn't a euphemism, even though it would make a good one for something.

In May the sheep would get sheared. Our dad had about 100 ewes. To a real sheepman, this is a tiny flock. He would keep them on our farm in a near-by pasture during the winter where they were fed hay. Then, the lambing would start in March, for which we used a nearby neighbor's barn, since ours was filled with cows twice a day for the milking, and then in May it was time to shear. After that, he and several other neighbors who also owned small flocks (50-100) would jointly hire a sheepherder and take the combined herd of sheep up into the mountains to spend the summer and graze and get fat, so the lambs could be sold in the fall. These two events--wool sale and lamb sale--were extra paychecks that were important to our parents in those early days of trying to get a foothold in life. After a few years, by the time I was 13 or so, my dad sold the ewes to someone and focused on just dairy cows, enlarging that operation.

So--shearing. These same farmers would hire a shearing band to come one week and they'd set up shop and shear hundreds of sheep for people in the area. The fleeces would be tied up in a bundle with string, and tossed into a large burlap bag that was suspended from a tall wooden frame. I was a little kid, but I think the wool bags were very long, probably 10 feet. Wool, of course, is very fluffy, so after two or three fleece balls were tossed into the bag, a moderately sized child was hoisted up onto the frame, and she would drop down into the bag and jump up and down on the fleeces to pack them tightly. More fleece would come flying in onto your head, but they weren't heavy, so no problem, and you'd stomp them until eventually, you would be standing at the top of the frame again, atop a big burlap sack packed full of wool. You would smell like lanolin and your dried-up, cracked leather school shoes that had been worn all year through the puddles and snow, were greased up and revived for the last bit of school.

The year that she was eight and I was ten--her birthday was the next week or so when she'd be nine--she had been down at the shearing shed stomping wool and had the bicycle. The plan was she would start for home and I would start for the shearing shed. We'd meet halfway and I'd take the bike back for my turn to stomp wool. I started down the gravel road to the shearing shed, and I could see her coming along just beyond our neighbor's house. Then, their dogs came racing out of the gate. They were sheep people--I think they may have owned 500-700 ewes. So their dogs weren't pets, they were herders. Not being pets, they were fiercely protective of their space, and a little girl on a bike was apparently just as threatening as a coyote or a bear, so they charged her. I ran screaming at them, and she pedaled as fast as she could, but there were at least three of them and so they surrounded her and one of them jumped to bite her leg. She kicked out at it and lost her balance as they pushed against her. It knocked her over.

I ran up to her and kicked at the dogs, but they were already leaving since they'd accomplished their goal of preventing her from invading their territory. She'd fallen face-first onto the gravel. Her knees were hurt a little, but her mouth was a raw, bleeding, gaping horror. Just then, a car crunched to a stop. The neighbor's son and wife had witnessed the crash as they pulled out of the driveway and hurried over. I couldn't even say anything, I was crying from being so mad and scared at the dogs, and then after seeing her face I was even madder at those stupid dogs. The couple scooped her up and put her in their car, driving straight to our house. My mom tried to wash off the rocks and dirt. The bleeding was quite extreme, you can imagine--your lips are very vessel-rich. It was obvious that a doctor was going to have to fix this, so Mother just put some ice in a towel and put her in the car and hurried to town.

I don't remember how many stitches she had to have. It was a lot---inside, outside. She also had to have at least one, and maybe a second, surgery to remove scar tissue and reshape her upper lip. It was a huge swollen mess for quite a while. Her birthday was about a week later, and my aunt made her a doll cake and she still has a swollen lip in the photo. Eventually, it was repaired pretty well, because she had really beautiful lips as an adult. In her baby pictures, the thing you notice first is her adorable, Cupid's bow lips. I've seen them again on a couple of her grandchildren.

We hated those dogs for a long time. They couldn't really help themselves, I realize. They were bred to be aggressive and protective. But a few years later, one of them killed one of my mom's pet cats, leaving behind an orphaned litter, so they didn't get any more popular with our family. That same summer of the cat murder, a tourist ran over the dog when the neighbor was moving his sheep herd up the highway to a summer pasture. Secretly, we were all glad.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thirty-Six Years

May 17, 1974
May 17 2010 the numbers...
  • 5 children
  • 2 tonsilectomies
  • 2 eye surgeries
  • 5 casts
  • stitches and stitches and stitches
  • 2 years of dancing lessons
  • 3 years of soccer
  • 6 years of Little League
  • 3 elementary schools
  • 3 middle schools
  • 2 high schools
  • 3 years of swim team
  • 12 years of band
  • 2 Eagle Scouts
  • 2 scholarships
  • 12 colleges
  • 3 missionaries
  • 1 Peace Corps volunteer
  • 2 weddings
  • 4 grandchildren
  • 6 dogs
  • 12 cats
  • 4 birds
  • 9 rats
  • 1 bunny
  • 1 gerbil
  • 1 snake
  • 1 goat
  • 6 chickens
  • mucho fish
  • 4 states
  • 6 cities/towns
  • 14 cars/trucks
  • 5 Harleys
  • 1 row boat
  • 1 canoe
  • 1 trampoline
  • 3 bicycles
  • 1 waterbed
  • 1 sewing machine
  • 3 washers
  • 2 deployments
  • we stopped counting arrivals and departures
  • 3 + decades of kisses, arguments, laughter and tears

Here's hoping for innumerable good times to come.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Dawning of A Brighter Day

Today in Sacrament meeting the theme was the restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood. The deacon's quorum president spoke, the teacher's quorum president spoke, and then a brother who is the deacon's quorum advisor spoke. He gave an awesome talk, using an analogy that was inspired by the weekend campout that the men and boys of the ward attended. It is the regular Aaronic Priesthood Campout/Guys FunTime that most wards have around the anniversary each year.

Our ward went out to the Valley of Fire to camp. This area is far enough away from Las Vegas that the night sky is very dark and you can see every star. The man started his talk by saying that they'd had a really pleasant evening on Friday, dinner round the campfire and good times. He has four boys and they are "all boy" so he had his hands full. But he is a capable dad, and I'm sure his wife was relieved to have a quiet evening at home. He told us that at 4:00 A.M. he was awakened by the 3 year old and after he got him settled back down, Dad almost went back to bed, but felt inspired instead to stay up.

This is where the talk got very good. He told us about watching the sleeping camp and realizing that the world was such an interesting place in this time of day. The desert may look barren and sterile but in fact is filled with life. As the sky began to make its subtle changes from night to dawn, he realized that he could feel and hear nature stirring. Birds began to chirp, bats came out and flew wildly about, swooping over the heads of a group of teens asleep in the back of a truck, snatching bugs from the air right over their noses. He could feel the breeze move across the earth and actually hear plants move. The sky began to lighten even more, yet stars were still visible even up to the moment the sun finally came up. It was gradual and subtle, yet inexorable. He felt so thrilled to have watched it all.

Then he matched it all in a great analogy to the restoration of the Aaronic priesthood. He read from the hymn "The Morning Breaks" a line about "Angels from heaven and truth from earth have met and both have record borne; thus Zion's light is bursting forth..." Moroni came and retrieved the Book of Mormon from where he'd buried it in the ground. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were translating it when they read about baptism and went to inquire of the Lord whether they should be baptized and where could they get the authority to do so. It reminded this brother about how the light of dawn came on gradually. It wasn't dark one minute and bright sun the next---things changed over time. Joseph Smith didn't get everything restored in one step.

He related the stirring of life in the early dawn hours to the atmosphere of the time in the United States, where religious fervor was stirring and there was a political system that permitted choice of religion. He compared the bats' swooping to the ministers of the time who'd rush in and snatch up a disaffected member from one sect to join with a new one. He compared the fact that you could still see stars in the dawn's light to the truths that were out there, but when the sun [the Son] comes out in its full glory, only it is ultimately visible, providing illumination that eclipses all other sources of light, including any puny attempt that mankind has invented.

Anyway, I hope you get the idea. It was a terrifically well-done talk. He really did a superb job of tying everything together without stretching or distorting his analogy. I was really impressed! He had set it up so well, and then fulfilled it so completely. It was an excellent sermon. I talked to him afterward and encouraged him to write it all down and send it off to the church magazines. They'll take it and print it. It was really fine.

Anyway, that was my Sunday lesson. Then I went to Primary and was treated to a great sharing time, done by a skilled woman who has a knack for explaining gospel principles to little kids. She teaches high school, but she is good once a week with wee ones. Fine day....

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Bird Story in Two Acts

Yesterday the fourth grade went on a field trip to a Nevada history site. It is the original building of Las Vegas. (Ironically, built by Mormon missionaries in 1855--not a casino, but a trading post.) The place is now a state park, and was owned by a string of people who took it over from the missionaries after they left, using it as a trading post and then a ranch, then a railroad water stop and finally in 1905, Sin City was incorporated. the field trip, we happened upon a young bird that had left the nest, but couldn't yet fly and so it hopped to a pile of wood, where it tried to be invisible under a log. However, we could clearly see it, sitting there, so un-birdlike. The kids thought this was the best part of the field trip. A real bird, just sitting there! I encouraged them to use quiet voices and to not touch it because it wasn't a pet. It was a wild bird, and it is best to not touch wild animals--just observe them. I think it was a mockingbird because of the color and design on its wings.

Today, I got home, and Cool Guy called me over to look at something that was, from his tone of voice, quite remarkable. Laying there on the ground was a dead bird. This bird I know was a mockingbird, because I recognized it, having seen it up close and personal for about a week at our house. We have a nesting pair of them who live in our yard each Spring and raise a brood. During the three/four week period of the incubation and until the babies head out on their own, the parents are super vigilant.

The Queen of Kitty Cats drives them CRAZY! And I don't actually blame her. They just can't bear her existence during their nesting time. She is ultra-casual about it. She lies in the open garage door while CoolGuy works on his motorcycle and coolly watches them jump around on the driveway shrieking at her. She'll saunter over and lay under the truck, and the two birds will hop under there with her yelling and hollering at her very presence. When she steps out into the open, they'll take flight and dive-bomb her to peck at her head. She doesn't like that at all. But she won't go back in the house.

Besides, it doesn't halt the barrage: they just follow her in and stand on the door jamb chastising her. I saw one actually hop about two feet into the kitchen to give her a piece of birdie-mind. They are relentless and fearless. Sadly.

When CoolGuy showed me the little limp carcass, I immediately thought that Kitty Cat had taken up her old ways. In Maryland, she frequently hunted in the cornfield next to our house, and often left her "love offerings" of dead rodents and birds on our kitchen steps. But, no, it was a sad story of hubris and daring.

CoolGuy was engrossed in putting together his engine and hadn't seen the bird go all the way through the garage and into the open kitchen door, pursuing the cat. When CoolGuy later went into the house for a bathroom break, he was startled to see the mockingbird perched on the windowsill of the bathroom, hoping to find a way through the glass to the outdoors it could see. CoolGuy tried to grab him up, and nearly succeeded, but the bird escaped the bathroom and flew into the living room. CoolGuy opened all the doors, and hoped that our little pest would see the escape and leave. But instead, the bird flew at top speed right into a large window next to the open door, and brained himself. He fell to the floor, bleeding and died after a couple of minutes.


So, CoolGuy put him outside on the ground near the tree so that the mate would know what had become of the partnership. Kitty Cat sat in the doorway looking out inscrutably. And the other half of the KittyCat Harassment Team launched into the routine with greater fervor, since now he/she was a loner. I'm sad for the children.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Being a Mother

Today we made Mother's Day cards, and I used the example of a card I wrote about my mother. We wrote cinquain poetry to go inside of the card, and, as usual, they ask me if I'm sending it to my mother and I tell them that she has died. They all say, "Oooh..." It is sweet and I explain that she was old and very sick, and actually was looking ahead with eagerness to being in Heaven with my dad who'd died twenty years before. It is an interesting conversation we have. But they are young enough to take it at face value and many of them also believe in Heaven and God and so we're good.

But, also, at lunch, I'd had a short conversation with a co-worker whose children are growing up faster than she'd imagined--I've taught both of them here in this school--and she was exclaiming about how she just wants to slow it all down a little. Yeah, I know what she meant. I really didn't resent any age of motherhood. I was totally immersed in diaper-land for 11 years, but I don't recall just grinding my teeth and wishing it would end. I do recall being quite thrilled when it did finally end, but I was "in the moment" while it occured. It did just seem to go by too fast. I know I've lamented this before, but no one prepares you for all the time you spend as a parent of adults. It seems like you're going to be important to them forever. But it expires so quickly. There you are one day-- irrelevant. Sigh.

Here's a great quote I read from an article about a book I'll have to buy. My daughter linked me to the book review. I'll link you. It sounds awesome. I wish I'd thought to write all of the great things these women wrote. But...the quote....(it was about understanding things from God's perspective when you're a mother:

If it were up to me, they wouldn’t be asked to suffer a day in their lives.
Which is why it isn’t up to me.

Isn't that true? I always feel that way! Still! Even though they are adults. I want to rush in and fix everything and be the buffer between them and bad stuff. Sigh.

Motherhood...who knew labor and delivery would be the easy part?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Happy Birth Day

Just giving a shout-out to our first daughter whose birthday is today. She was our homebirth test flight. It went very well in that we had a baby and everything was fine. Now she is almost three months out from her third child's birth and I, again, find myself flabbergasted that all those years have gone by.

You'd think I'd get over the fact that our children are adults and we're old. But it happened so fast. Someday, she'll be sitting there writing a birthday card to her grown-up daughter and feeling the same sense of disorientation.

This girl taught herself to read when she was about three and a half and she has spent very little time since then without a book in her hand. It isn't really a mystery, I guess. When you have the second baby and you've got a two year old, one effective way to keep track of everyone is to sit the big brother down beside you on the couch and read a story while you nurse the baby. Then, through the miracle of hyper-fertility (really it wasn't a miracle---it was sex) we had another baby before she was two. Sooo...lots more reading books on the couch with mom while she nursed the baby. Apparently the synapses were firing away and our daughter made that connection and started to read on her own.

Reading has always been a big deal in our house. It was one of the things that attracted me to CoolGuy when we were in sixth grade. He read books all the time. There was always quite a bit of reading in our house and she was fully immersed in the culture. Here is a cool poem she wrote in 8th grade that I have framed in my room.

My parents took me places
I'd never been before.
They showed me different faces
Of hope, of peace, and war.

We went to many different lands,
Where rabbits sang and mice talked,
Even snakes had legs and hands,
And whales stood up and walked.

We flew into outer space,
And climbed the mountains steep.
I watched winning horses race,
And swam the ocean deep.

My parents gave me something fun,
Which they knew I'd need.
I'll love them more than anyone,
They taught me how to read.
May 8, 1992

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The Carpet Is Clean

Today I moved things out of the bedroom. We have a lot of books. And there aren't even any official book shelves in there. We just had so many piled up on the bedstand, it was quite astonishing. Then, I got the power drill and pulled out the screws holding the bedframe together. I wish I had more power tools. They take all the strain off the sore hands. I laid the sides onto the floor as they came loose and then went next door to see if my neighbor's strapping son and older daughter could come and carry all the parts out onto the patio.

Oops---the kids are all in California--Knott's Berry Farm! Good for them; they are guests of their little sister who won the trip through her cheerleading gig. However, that left me with no one handy to carry my wooden parts out of the way.

So, I got in the truck and drove up two blocks to the home of a lady I know who has a grown son who recently came back from his two years in Romania, and a son-in-law who are both living with them right now. The son-in-law is in the Army and they are in transition and visiting her folks for a while. Only the missionary son was home, so he and another hardy young dude in the neighborhood was called and they came and toted out the parts. Then they lifted my dresser around the corner through the doorway and VOILA--empty room.

So, I've been carpet cleaning for two hours and right now it looks lovely. Hope it still loves lovely when it's dry.