Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Going to the Sun

There is a highway in Montana, in Glacier National Park named "Going to the Sun" and someday, I hope to drive on it. But right now, I'm reveling in the fact that today marks the End of the Darkness. It is Winter Solstice, and I always have a tiny celebration when this day comes! From now on, the sun will be in the sky for a teensy bit longer. It isn't really noticeable until later in February. One day, you walk outside and realize that it isn't dark yet, and it used to be dark this time of day. It's a relief to me. I'm sure I had ancestors who were Druids or something. I really look forward to December 21st every year.

It's not exactly like I have a harsh winter to deal with here in the Mojave Desert. It is actually rather mild, compared to the winters of my childhood. Yesterday, I saw a posting on Facebook from Cody, Wyoming, that showed the temperature at 2:30 A.M. as -56 degrees. Yes! Minus -56...I've been outside, doing chores, when it was 45 degrees below zero in Wyoming. It doesn't feel any colder than negative 20, but you just freeze faster. It is very, very, very unpleasant. I got to leave those weather conditions when I was a newly married woman, and it has ruined me forever for enduring bitter temperatures. For about two weeks here, the temperature has dipped into the 30s every night, and only risen to the low 60s during the day. A few days, it actually only warmed up to 47. Brrrrr....yes, it feels really cold when it does that here in Southern Nevada. You realize, of course, that it regularly exceeds 100 degrees every day in the summer. so that is a variation of 60-70 degrees. The variation in Wyoming, though, is from negative 40 to 80 above, so we have nothing to complain about.

Here's what is nice about winter in the desert: it is short. In another week or two, it won't be chilly any more. I'll be planting my tomatoes before the end of February, so that they'll have time to set fruit before it heats up in late May. I don't even wear a coat...I just wear a sweater. Mr. CoolGuy wore his chaps this week, but he's still riding the motorcycle every day! I have large palm trees in my front yard. They're just fine. I have a plant growing up a trellis in my back yard that still has flowers blooming on it. One night, it must have gotten to 31 degrees, because my basil plants are all black and drooping, dead. I've been harvesting from them since May...that was seven months. I don't mind winter at all here.

 Here is one magnificent part of "winter" here: there is almost always a spectacular sunset, every night.

Here is another way I enjoy my "winter" here. There are beautiful snow-covered mountains. They are waaay up there, where I can admire them, but I never have to walk or drive in that snow.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Mother "Rules"

Today is our mother's birthday. She would have 89 years old. She was a remarkable person, who gave birth to eight children, helped our dad run the farm, and was a fantastic grandmother to the large group of grandchildren that we gave her. I was thinking today of how she was, and why she still looms large in our family. It think it is because there were a few hard and fast "rules" she had. Not all of the rules were spoken, but nevertheless, they were known to all. Here are a few of which I was aware:

#1    People always want to eat, no matter what else is going on. Food matters. 
She was an accomplished cook. She fed all ten of us from her little kitchen, and every meal was a masterpiece. No, seriously...she prepared a balanced meal, every time. By balanced, I mean nutritionally, but I also mean visually. Each presentation was colorful, had a variety of textures, and was complete with side dishes, bread and butter, and dessert. Also, she knew that whoever showed up at our house, at whatever time of day, they would be hungry, and she was ready to deal with it. Inevitably, especially in summer, we'd be setting the table for dinner (the mid-day meal on a farm) and a car would enter our driveway, bearing cousins, or grandparents, or whoever...No problem, set another plate, slice more bread, get out another dish of pickled beets and we'll feed them.

Whenever a family member went to a special event, Mother would always want to hear about the meal served. And, frankly, when she went to something, the food was the highlight for her, too! Don't know why, but I guess if you're a fabulous cook, you always check out the competition.

#2   Always clean up, comb your hair, and wear your lipstick if you're leaving the house. 
My mother milked the cows every night until I was about seven years old. By then, my two older sisters were able to milk on their own. The evening milking was done by others, not Daddy, because he was busy in winter feeding hay to the other animals in the fields, and in summer he was irrigating. Also, my mother could, and did drive tractors, trucks, and helped herd horses, and cattle when necessary. BUT...if she was going to be leaving the farm, whether to teach Primary, attend Relief Society (both were weekday activities way back when) or just to drive to town to pick up a part for a piece of machinery, she "fixed" herself. She combed her hair neatly, she changed into clean clothes, she put on lipstick. Despite the fact that she might be just going right back out to that tractor, she wouldn't have dreamed of showing up in public without looking well-groomed and put together. One of my favorite times was Sunday, because she had matching earrings, shoes and purses for different seasons. She was classy looking. She held our whole family to this standard. If you were going to be out in public, you should dress for it. She felt it was just good manners.

#3  Be nice.
She was known as a smiling, cheerful person. She could strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere. When we were kids, my dad would often bring home people who were hitch hiking their way across America. It was the 1960s, and there were a lot of young people who thought that would be a great idea. The only thing they didn't know was, that, when you get to Wyoming, there are very large areas of nothing-ness. You can drive for several hours and not pass a town, a house, or any human habitation. Plus, it gets cold at night, even in July. Many people wandered through our small town, because it was a main route to Yellowstone Park. Whether they had a car or were just biking or hiking, by the time some of these vagabonds got to the highway in front of our farm, they were bedraggled. My mom would welcome them in, feed them a hearty meal. My dad would offer them a chance to earn a few dollars, helping around the farm, or they could trade their service for a tank of gas. But, while they were with us, they could regroup, and then Daddy would take them into town, where a ride would be more likely to be found. I brought home a couple of "long-haired weirdos" one time after high school, when I working in a resort town. They loved our place. They gobbled up the delicious farm food, and helped us haul hay, and then drove off the next day to continue their adventure. My parents had been so kind and welcoming while the "guests" were there, but quietly informed me to not hook up with "that type" ever again. But, my mother was always nice. You don't lose a thing when you're nice.

#4 Hard work won't kill you.
I know this, because if it did, my mother would have not lived until she was 78 years old. She worked hard! She learned it as a child, too. Then, she grew up, and taught it to her children. Sometimes, it felt like we might die, but we never did. She had high standards of cleanliness. Every single day the living room was dusted, the floors were swept, the beds were made, the bathroom was cleaned. Someone had to sweep the porch, the steps and sidewalk.  Those "someones" were us children, because she was busy cooking, and doing laundry, and cleaning things that we weren't capable of doing to her standards. When I got my own house, I thought I'd just not be so militant about it. But, I quickly learned that unless you daily clean, you soon have a really dirty house. Oh. But, between the chickens, the cows, the dishes, the bathrooms, the floors, and the dusting, we all learned the satisfaction of a job well-done. And we learned that the world doesn't owe you a living, and if you do something, you should do it the best you can. This was drilled into each of us and, by gum, we've all turned out pretty well, and can take care of ourselves in this big old world. Plus, we learned how to raise our children with these same good habits.

I'm sure others who knew her could add to this list of "rules" but these are a few that represent her life to me. I had a really awesome childhood, growing up under the influence of Carol Haderlie Welch, and I want to pay tribute to her today.

 This is elementary school in Freedom, Wyoming.

 My parents, in their yard, before my dad got sick, probably the early 1970s. 

My sister Patricia, my mom, and me at Arlington National Cemetery, in the late 1990s. 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Swimming...One of My Favorite Things

I love swimming. It is right up there at the top of my favorite things. When I was a little girl, we took swimming lessons every summer. I was terrible at it. It took me three years to pass off the first level. I just kept getting held back until I towered over the other kids in my class. Somehow, I couldn’t master the part about dipping my head in the water, exhaling, and then lifting it up to get another breath. Sigh…I still swim with my head out of the water. I still haven’t mastered that skill. But I don’t let it get in my way! If there is water, I want to be in it.

I grew up in the northwestern part of Wyoming—land of geysers. Every pool that I ever swam in was sourced from a hot spring that bubbled up from the thin crust of the earth there. Our pool for summer lessons was built around a sulfur hot spring, so we smelled like rotten eggs after swimming there. But–every scratch, scab, and injury that little kids acquire during the course of playing hard, would be healed up after an hour in that smelly pool.

When we married, CoolGuy was a Navy man, and we lived in California by the ocean. Wow, a gigantic, free swimming pool that splashed back at you. Actually, my first swim in the ocean was a wake-up call that Mother Nature is the boss. I picked a spot, waded out into the waves, and messed around a little, with my inadequate swimming skills. When I turned to look back at the shore, I was smacked by a wave, dragged up the beach, as the top half of my suit was pushed down around my waist. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to even stand up, because the effect of the waves rushing back and forth had me scrambling to get my footing, while I struggled to pull my clothing back into place. Aww, nature…it’s tougher than you are.

But, that didn’t put me off swimming in the ocean! I just learned to avoid certain spots. Not every beach is a good place to swim. There is hardly anything more delightful than floating off shore, just past the wave break, feeling the water moving past you, as you bob up and down. Pelicans fly by, kelp floats along tickling your legs. The salty taste is invigorating.

Now, I live in the desert. But, I remembered my friend’s advice from her college years in Arizona: you need a pool to survive desert summers. So, I do not have walk-in closets, nor granite counter tops, but I do have an in-ground pool, with a hot-tub. The moment it is warm enough to swim, I’m out there–every day. I have difficult feet, so running or jogging has never been an option. But, when you swim, feet don’t count. I swim early, I swim at night, I swim whenever I feel like it!

And, as an old lady, I have to say: you need a hot tub. Every night, all year round, we end our day by soaking in the warm, bubbly water. Last night, it was 40 degrees here in the Mojave Desert. I stepped outside in my thick robe, and looked down across the valley at the bright lights of the Strip. I slipped out of my robe, and stepped down into the steaming bubbles of the hot tub, and looked up at the stars. Orion was overhead to the south, Cassiopeia was off to the north. I could see Pleiades, and as I relaxed and let my eyes adjust, hundreds of other stars came into view. There is nothing so great as a big pool of water. Every care floats away. You’re one with nature. Sigh….my favorite thing.

 Me, in the Pacific Ocean: the way life ought to be.

 Even the grandchildren know that water is the best place for fun, too.

What to do when it is 112 degrees in the Mojave Desert.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Celebrating Christ In Music

On Sunday the hymns were from the Christmas song section of the hymnal.  YEAH! I love Christmas music, especially the hymns we sing. I also loved playing them when I was the organist for so many years. However, as I sang two of the songs yesterday, I realized that, although they start out celebrating the birth of Christ, the later verses are actually predicting and anticipating the Second Coming. But, in reality, one cannot discuss one event's significance without it leading to the other event. Christ was born so that He could be resurrected and return in glory to cleanse the earth.

The first song was "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear." This hymn was written in 1849, and addressed the difficulties of the changing world. The writer expressed his belief that the birth of Christ was not just a one time event, but something that has, or should have, ramifications continuously throughout history. In verse two, the writer expresses his belief that Christ's message is still being brought to us by angels who "float o'er all the weary world" to lift us with the hope of His Gospel. The third verse in our LDS hymn book then moves right into the prophecy of the Second Coming. The "days are hastening on" when we will welcome our Prince of Peace and the whole world will join together in song rejoicing, and we will answer the angels.

The next song that had a message of the Millennium was "Joy to the World." The arrangement we use in our LDS hymn book is by W.W. Phelps, who edited and printed Emma Smith's collection of hymns. He arranged a significant number of the hymns, altering the wording of some popular Christian hymns to reflect the unique doctrine of the restored gospel. The original words to "Joy to the World" were written by Issac Watts in the 1700's. Actually, his original title for it was "The Messiah's Coming and Kingdom" so that indicates that he, too, considered this hymn not just a "Christmas" song. Once you get past the first verse, it is obvious that, although this tune has become totally associated with Christ's birth celebration, the words are about the great event of the Lord's return to reign and rule in peace and glory for a thousand years.

 "No more will sin and sorrow grow, 
nor thorns infest the ground;
He'll come and make the blessings flow,"

But, don't you just love singing it? The first part is just a march down the scale, and then the chorus starts small, with the tenor and bass echoing the melody, until, at the end, we join our voices together in a final joyous shout.

I guess I'm going to need to take my Primary president's key and go over to the church one of these days with my hymn book, just to play Christmas songs on the organ. This will be the first year in a decade...really...that I haven't been the organist during the Christmas singing season at church. So, I'm just going to indulge my need. I should take CoolGuy with me---he loves Christmas hymns, too. What a lovely way to spend an hour, musically celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.