Sunday, July 28, 2013

Growing Men

We had a family reunion last week for my brothers and sisters. There were so many men at the party. This only seems notable because I grew up in a world of girls. Our parents had eight children: six girls and two boys. Four girls were born during the first twelve years of their marriage. My two brothers were still in elementary school when I graduated from high school, so there wasn't much machismo in my life. (My dad was very manly, but he was definitely outnumbered.) It was more balanced for the second phase of their childrearing, as the next four born were a boy, then a girl, then a boy, and last, another girl. They were known as The Little Kids.

I'm number three of the first four (aka: The Big Kids) and we girls got married within a few years of each other and managed to give birth to ten boys!! We had some girls, too, in that first batch of grandchildren, but seriously, it was grandson, grandson, grandson for several years. These boys have grown into men, and at the reunion I was just impressed at all the men there. We original children all married and produced 18 boys and 11 girls. This generation has reached adulthood, (the final one graduated from high school this spring...) and many of them are married, and lots of this generation came to our party. So there was a crowd of young and not so young men there.

I was reflecting on this today in Sacrament meeting as I watched the young men in our ward pass the Sacrament out to the congregation. Since I play the organ and my back is to that table, I didn't see who had set it up and was sitting there waiting to prepare the bread and water as the people sang the song. I finished playing, slid off the bench into my seat and immediately closed my eyes. As the person started praying, I realized that I didn't recognize the voice. When he finished the prayer, I looked up and two of the "boys" standing there passing out trays to the deacons were actually men who have joined the Church in the last few years in our congregation. For one of them, it was the first time I've seen him participate in this capacity. It was really great to see them, standing there with their third partner, a seventeen-year old young man. I thought how fine it is to be part of an organization where these men can make such a big change in their lives, even in middle age (as one of them is) and then become part of a peer group where it is irrelevant when you got the Aaronic priesthood---12 years old or 45 years old---because you have the same authority and opportunities for service and growth.

Now, what does that have to do with my family reunion? Well, as a girl, growing up in my house-o-girls, we did all the chores. We did the outside work, we did the inside work. I'm pretty sure my little brothers learned to make their beds, and probably did some dishes, as well as feed calves and haul hay. But, I really didn't understand boys well until I got married, became a mom, and started raising boys. GoolGuy taught me about the life of boys, and I read a lot of books. But, I learned to really appreciate the Church because it gave me a resource where other men could be involved in the lives of my boys and back up our parental ideals. It was also a place where, just when boys recognize that they aren't little kids anymore, and maybe they want their mothers to just back off a little, these boys are gathered up into an organization that gives them authority and purpose backed up with spirituality. Twelve year old boys really need the priesthood right then.

Yes, yes, family reunion....I loved seeing that my girl-centric childhood has blossomed into such a great bunch of men. Our dad died when the oldest of these little grandsons was only eight, so Daddy missed seeing the legions of missionaries, (and a granddaughter served, too). But he would have loved it on Saturday, watching the softball game with in-laws and cousins and men and women and children out there competing. He'd have loved the way a group of our grown sons unhesitatingly donned gloves and helped an uncle go haul a big load of hay out of a field and bring it home, stacked neatly on his trailer. He'd have smiled at dads hauling babies around, lifting them onto the swings, bravely riding behind a 10 year driver on the four-wheeler, holding onto the little ones as they rode the horses plodding around and around the pasture. It was a pleasure to see how our parents' love story has resulted in this crowd of really fine adults in our "Third Crop."

I also know that we all got help from the Priesthood organization at church in raising these fine men. We all had help from our dear farmer brother who willingly took on a 14/15 year old "hired hand" each summer from the ranks of the nephews. We all got help from other people who also raised great men to marry the granddaughters in our family and start new generations for us to love and enjoy. My experience in teaching boys all these years has made me appreciate the genius of the Priesthood. Right when a young boy starts to see himself as growing into manhood, he is invited into a group where he can have some authority, some structure, some teaching, some fun, some opportunity to serve others. There are other men who can back up his parents and provide an example of goodness (manly goodness) right when a boy needs it. Like I said, it's a genius plan...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

First Time

We were in Wyoming, again, over the weekend. This time it was the family reunion for my sisters and brothers. It was well attended, with three generations and lots of babies. We had a great time. I'll tell you about it later.

One of the things I did this weekend, however, was to ride the motorcycle with CoolGuy for the first time, ever, in our hometown valley. My children expressed their surprise, but, I wasn't his girlfriend in high school, so I didn't go for any rides with him. The only other time we took the bike up there, I was quite pregnant, so I didn't ride it then, either.

What a wonderful place to ride a motorcycle! It was cool and pleasant and green. One evening we went into town to pick up a couple of items for the campfire cookout. Amusingly, we pulled into the parking lot of the market, just as two of my brother's daughters were coming out with their cart. They walked up to us and we all recognized each other at the same time with a cheerful "Hi!" We exchanged pleasantries and they loaded up the truck and one girl said, "You guys look really cool!" That was a nice compliment from some authentically cool people to a couple of geezers. But, hey we were on a vintage Harley, wearing our leather vests and boots.

Another afternoon we headed out on some of the back roads that were only gravel coated when we were youngsters, but now have pavement. We headed across the valley toward the western hills where aspens and sagebrush share the scene with lupines and sunflowers. It was so beautiful! There were sprinklers spritzing the pastures and the breeze would blow a little mist our way. Some fields had rows of drying cut alfalfa and some were dotted with bales. The fragrance of freshly cut hay was just as intoxicating as ever, and even a little better than usual, since I knew I didn't have to mess around hauling and stacking any of it. We both laughed when I mentioned that to CoolGuy. He's handled his share of bales, too.

The little community we drove through was the one where both his parents spent their childhoods. We commented about which of our old friends used to live where, and we drove by the old homestead of his relatives. I noticed that there is a park now where once was a rodeo arena. I'd ridden a cow in one of the Pioneer Day rodeos they used to hold each summer. Well, I did make it out of the chute, but not much further. I can't even remember how old I was---probably 11 or 12. It all felt so familiar, but we've been gone so long from our former home that we probably don't even know most of the people in those houses we passed.

It was such a marvelous afternoon. The sun was warm, but the breeze was cool at 40 mph as we moseyed around. As we drove east again on a main road, CoolGuy pointed out that this was the road where he'd first driven a two-wheeled motored vehicle. His dad had gotten him a little scooter with a two-cycle engine, and had taken it out to a machinist to have something welded on it. Then, CoolGuy--about 13 years old---got on and took off down this country road and was immediately hooked. I asked who taught him how to ride it. He replied, "I just got on, twisted the throttle, and kept it pointed straight. There wasn't anything to learn." He's been twisting the throttle ever since and I'm just glad I get to ride behind...especially on such a beautiful afternoon in such a lovely place.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Just the Truth

This really sums it up so often in life, huh?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Keep On the Sunny Side

Many years ago, I was asked to give a talk in church and the topic was "Happiness" which was quite vague to me. I gave it some thought and wrote this talk. I recently found a copy of it, and I still like it. So today, we go back in time to the person I was a decade ago, and listen to her ideas on happiness.

 Psalms 118:24 
This is the day which the Lord hath made,
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
First, I really think it is important to be happy. I don’t mean silly, or delirious or vulgar or foolish.  I mean optimistic, positive, or cheerful.  There is a great old song called, The Sunny Side of Life.

          There’s a dark and troubled side of life.
          There’s a bright and sunny side too.
          Though you meet with the darkness and strife,
          The sunny side may also find you.
Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side, it will help us everyday.
It will brighten all the way, if you keep on the sunny side of life.

This is very simple, but I think important to realize that we can choose to do just that: decide to be a positive person. 

Now, back at Psalms---“This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

It doesn’t say, “I’ll think about rejoicing”  or “If nothing goes wrong today, I’ll rejoice” Or “If my children/spouse/boss/best friend/customers---whoever---aren’t really annoying today, I’ll rejoice.” I feel really strongly that an important part of the agency that we’ve been given by our Father in Heaven is the requirement for us to be in charge of our personal happiness. We know that happiness is part of the plan of salvation. In 2 Nephi 2:25 we are taught that ...”men are that they might have joy...” It was as much a part of the plan as the creation, and our mortality.

It goes on in 2 Nephi to admonish us that we are “free, knowing good from evil, to act for [our]selves and not to be acted upon.” It also explains that this privilege allows us the choice to follow the Messiah, or to follow the devil and that choosing the devil will lead to us being miserable like he is. 

These scriptures are talking about our eternal salvation, but I feel that it is also clear that our Heavenly Father want us to spend our mortal life in a state of happiness, not misery.

How do we choose happiness?  By rejoicing in each day that the Lord gives us.  By not living in the past in the many ways we do:  wishing we were living somewhere else...wishing we were with someone else…wishing we hadn’t done something stupid/daring/rude/mean to someone that time (or those many times). The past has definitely passed. When we focus on our regrets or past mistakes we are rejecting the Atonement.  Christ suffered for all of our sins and mistakes. He has taken that burden on Him and you don’t need to carry it anymore.  If you have truly repented of your sins and mistakes, and asked God’s forgiveness, then you need to accept it.  If you don’t allow the past to be the past, then you waste Christ’s gift. In the same vein, if we continually dwell on what could have been, you waste what is now. And if you really understand God’s role, then you’ll believe what King Benjamin said when he pointed out that our very existence is a gift from God; that we depend on Him for our very lives and all that we have and are. Will you waste that on wishing away today for something that is over? Let the past go.

We choose happiness by accepting people as they are, and not expend our efforts in trying to make them be the way we want them to be. The most important advice I got from anyone was when a counselor, who had listened to me complain and gripe about my husband and all his inadequacies and failings (in my eyes) got very impatient and pointed out that I was never going to be happy as long as my happiness depended on someone else changing. I couldn’t change anyone else and I shouldn’t be able to either. And it was wrong of me to think that I should or could. He went on to say that the only way to treat our spouse was to accept them the way they were. They weren’t just potential or clay for us to mold into our desire.  If we acted and spoke as if our spouse was just fine they way they were, then when that person made a positive change, we could just enjoy it and accept it as a gift and not act as though we were entitled to this change, and why did they take so long to make it?  If we accepted the change as a free will gift, we could just enjoy and not have any bitterness, or make the spouse feel that they were finally okay or improved.

It was an eye-opening moment for me.  I realized I’d been living my life as though I was driving the big stagecoach of the universe. You know how in the old western movies the driver would sit up on his perch with all those reins threaded through his fingers, his feet braced, his arms sawing back and forth, keeping those horses in line, being responsible  for them and his passengers, and the gold in the box under the seat?  He is definitely not relaxed or having a good time.  I was afflicted with all the syndromes:  I’m a big sister to five younger ones, I’m a woman, a mother, a teacher, a wife, I come from a long line of people who feel they need to tell everyone what to do!  So, I had to learn to get down off that stagecoach seat, and let go of those reins. 

I stopped trying to control the future.  I started concentrating on today.  I started appreciating the current characteristics of my spouse. I just gave up trying to run his life. Sometimes he did an awful job of it, in my opinion. But instead of giving advice, I just gave love. I did not accomplish this overnight. It was not a smooth upward arc. He’ll tell you. But I gained the perspective that God can give you.  If you truly rejoice in each day, and just live it, and not try to relive the past, or manipulate the future by controlling your loved ones, you will be a happier person.  (Of course, I’m not referring to your little children—they need your guidance—but again-- not your manipulation).

Along with this philosophy of rejoicing in and living in this day, I’ve learned to do as it teaches in Proverbs 3:5. 

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; lean not unto thine own understanding. 
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

Instead of me thinking I had to drive that stagecoach, I realized that God was doing it, and doing a fine job, too. All I had to do was ride shotgun—the person who sits alongside the driver and watches out. I started watching out for things I could control—myself—my attitude, my reactions, my spirituality—things that I should be in charge of rather than other people’s lives. We will never have everything be just like we think it should be. There are many things in life that are out of our control, and many things that we think are that actually aren’t. If you truly learn to trust in the Lord and not try to outthink Him, but lean not unto thine own understanding, your happiness will increase. He will direct you.

I wish to end with the rest of the old song “The Sunny Side of Life”:

Oh, the storm in its fury broke today,
Crushing hopes that we cherish so dear.
Clouds and storms will in time pass away,
The sun again will shine bright and clear. 

Let us greet with a song of hope each day
Though the moment be cloudy or fair
Let us trust in our Savior’s way
To keep us everyone in His care.
Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side of life.
It will help us everyday
It will brighten all the way
If you keep on the sunny side of life.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Beating the Heat

One of my recent posts was about the extreme heat we've been having here in the desert southwest. And then you didn't hear from me whining about it for several days. It's because I went north to enjoy a family event, and left behind the furnace weather. The first night we arrived in Wyoming, we actually were in a rain storm that poured down on us as we drove out to my sister's house and the temperature on the truck read 51 degrees. Yes...there just wasn't anything about the weather to complain about for the four days we were gone from here.

But we were visiting where the altitude is 6600 feet above sea level. I noticed on our return trip, that as we were descending in altitude, we were also ascending in temperature. In southern Utah, it was about 6000 feet and the temperature was 83 degrees. We began the descent down the mountain, and every few miles the temperature ticked upward. It was 90 at 4000 feet, then 95, then, we drove into the valley of the red rocks and eroded arches and --there it was---100 again! Not that we were exactly celebrating. CoolGuy had taken his motorcycle up north on the trailer. Then, he parked the trailer at our daughter's house in Utah and rode the 200 miles up to Wyoming and back on the bike. It was terrific riding weather. He was caught in a few thunderstorms, and he put on his jacket after dark, because, it's just a bit chilly at night in the mountains when you're going 70 mph.

We attended a wonderful event honoring his oldest brother in our hometown, and then we watched a parade and ate lunch with lots of relatives. It was a huge family gathering, and my daughter-in-law and our grandson came with us at the last minute, and I'm so glad she did. It was a delightful day with lots of traditional activities and family pride and memories. She and our grandson have usually only visited up there with us for funerals and this was completely opposite. We just enjoyed the beauty and the nice weather and camaraderie of being with a lot of relatives.

We got everyone back home to Utah and we put the motorcycle back on the trailer for the trip to Nevada. We knew we'd miss the pleasant cool mornings and dewy grass in the shadow of the pine-covered mountains. When we arrived back in the Mojave, it wasn't as hot as when we'd left, so that's a relief. But there's a huge wildfire on the back of mountains that line the west side of the valley, so the sky is filled with smoke and the sunset is brilliant orange for an extended period of time.

This traveling back and forth into different climate zones is strange, but this weekend had an added dimension of time travel for me, too. We spent the two days we were in our hometown immersed in the past. My daughter-in-law and I spent a lot of time talking about how CoolGuy and I lived as children. As we drove around, I pointed out the school where he and I first met. We passed our childhood homes, the church where we married, our high school site. We talked about the chores we'd each done. We even went to my parent's farm and looked around the old wooden barn where I'd spent so much of my youth. We drove part way up into the fields where my sisters and I had hauled bales every summer. She was fascinated by all the work we'd done just to earn a living. She'd never really understood before, I think, that I was just a farm girl. She'd only known me as a teacher, an adult, my son's mother. It was interesting for her to see where I'd lived and what I done as a child and a teen, and it gave her a new understanding of me. I assured her that, as children, we didn't have an expectation that our lives were going to be any different from what they'd been. She was raised in a large, sophisticated city in South America. I was just a farm girl. I really am hardly any different than that girl who went into that barn twice a day and milked those cows with her sister. I'm older, more tired and I certainly couldn't do the chores I once did. But, I'm still that girl who loves the mountains and reading and my horse. I'm still that girl who knows that, if I'm willing to do the work, I'll accomplish my goals. I'm still that girl who has a big crush on CoolGuy. So, it was a great weekend for going back in time and showing someone I care about, who I am and where I came from.

This is the swing set that was on the playground of my one-room school when I was little. It was being sold and so my sister bought it and installed it in her backyard. I spent a lot of time on this slide when I was a little kid.

That boy waving is our grandson. He's riding in a beautiful wagon being pulled by mules, and the other people in there with him are all relatives. They were honoring CoolGuy's brother.

Here's the photo of a grandpa and a grandson. They're next to the portrait of the great-uncle who was honored in the parade and the ceremony at our home town.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy Birthday, America

Don't know why, but this is one of my all-time favorite holidays! I like Christmas, I revere Easter, I'm even up for Thanksgiving. But July 4th, Independence Day, America's Birthday---it just makes me feel happy! So, today, celebrate--hang out the flag, wear your red/white/blue clothes. Go watch fireworks, or set off some yourself (watch out for those fingers...) Eat hot dogs and blueberry/strawberry/whipped cream frosted cake. It's a celebration for a great Lady--Lady Liberty.

I've spent seventeen years teaching fourth graders, in two different states. I love teaching them history and the reasons why we have the United States of America. For eight years, one of my curriculum items was the Constitution. First, we learned all about the Magna Carta, then we moved into the events that led to the colonists declaring independence from Great Britain. We studied the Revolutionary War, and then, we were ready to study the Constitution. You might be thinking that it seems like a fairly advanced subject for nine year olds. Yes, and no. They were very interested in the all of it, for a variety of reasons.

First: It was the real thing! It wasn't abstract, or fictional. Real people had done real things. We lived quite near Washington D.C. and other historical areas. One of our favorite field trips was to Fort McHenry, where the Battle of Baltimore took place. We sang the National Anthem while standing on the very ramparts mentioned in the song. So, my Maryland students had a sense of history.

Second: It appealed to their childhood sense of fairness. Fourth graders are hyper aware of "fair" and have a strong need for order. As we'd learn about the various taxes, orders, boycotts, and burdens placed on the colonists as King George tried to extract repayment for the expenses of the French and Indian War, the students developed a growing sense of irritation and were so ready  to declare independence themselves.

Third: It's an exciting story. Many of my students back east were children of military families. Their parents worked at the Navy base just across the river from our school. Some parents worked further north in the nation's capital or at the Pentagon. From our playground, we often saw Air Force One on its final approach to land at the base just forty miles north. Their family members worked every day for our nation, and the children knew it. And the stories of how we became our own country inspired them and gave them a sense of being part of long chain of people who were willing to do their part for America.

I was always amused when we'd get to the Constitution and especially the Bill of Rights. We'd read the content, then we'd talk about what it meant. I'd refer to the incidents during the years that led up to the Declaration of Independence. The students could connect those events to the prohibitions or guarantees laid forth in the document written to frame our government. There was often outrage expressed that anyone could even try to take away some of the freedoms stated in the Constitution. Imagine: you being forced to quarter soldiers in your home! You not being allowed to complain about government leaders! You being forced to give your taxes for a church you don't even go to!

So, today, or tomorrow...take some time to read a little history. Find out why we declared independence from Britain. Find out why those signers were willing to pledge their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor" to go up against the most powerful military might in the world at that time. They were all British citizens--no small thing in the 18th century. But they took a huge risk to cast off that privileged state to keep the rights they knew belonged to them as a birthright from their God.

Eat hot dogs, wave sparklers, wear your flag shirt! And offer up a prayer to the Father of us all and thank Him for the blessing we have to live in this great country. Ask Him to bless us to be wise enough to maintain it as the beacon of freedom and rights for many years to come.

USS Bowfin--naturally--a submarine, in honor of our son.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Feliz Cumpleanos

When he was born, our first son came right on his due date. How's that for a really compassionate child? And he is one of the few babies I know who've done that for their mother. He was born just three days before the big Bi-Centennial celebration for the USA, so I always associate his birthday with flags and fireworks. However, this also makes him a mature, grown adult man. Time flies...

 It's time to celebrate him!! Every moment of his birth, babyhood and childhood are etched vividly into his parents' minds and we love to reminisce. Here is a small tour of some of those groovy days.

Having a tasty snack. Old enough to stand up, but not yet walking.

Such a happy baby (probably cause he didn't know his mother had dressed him in a flowered night gown...)

Age two--trying on Dad's boots.

He's about 4 years old in the yard with his sister.
5th birthday party to which we invited all the friends and all their brothers and sisters...
About 4 years old being tossed into the air by a family friend.
At the beach

Laying on the floor with our giant kitty cat.

Hugging (mugging) baby sister, all dressed up for church.
After his baptism in a Wyoming river, with Grandpa and Dad.

Hanging out in So Cal on a hike somewhere. This was high school.
The main feature of this fine person's life is his mellow ability to keep calm and carry on. He gets along with everyone, everywhere. He can quietly smooth over stresses with people and technology and he is a loyal and true friend. He's funny, witty, thoughtful and kind. We love him and wish him a happy, happy birthday and many, many more.