Monday, December 14, 2009

ONE SMALL GIRL & ONE SMALL BOY


It’s been a whirlwind kind of month. More than a month. I woke in the middle of the night with that familiar weight of overwhelmedness. Overwhelmed by all there is to do in the next 11 days before Christmas; but overcome too, by the measure of goodness overflowing in the vessels of my life and my days.

We gathered last night at John and Ashley’s house, all adorned with beauty and festivity, to wish Ruby a Happy Birthday. Our little treasure sat on her mother’s hip in her pretty holiday dress, full of smiles and kisses. I thought back to one year ago when her parents clasped hands in the hospital and welcomed her here, a rare moment when the other kids were not buzzing around them; Ashley as beautiful as a woman can ever be; baby Ruby so fresh and quivering in innocence.
I paused in a moment of introspection in the middle of the night last night, thinking about birth, trying to recall, somewhere down in the memory box behind the belly button, what that very first breath felt like, when I was still connected to my original life source, when my flesh first encountered air all chill and dry against my new wet skin. I can’t recall it in exactness, but it feels correct that it did happen, much the same way as it feels correct that I came from somewhere meaningful before I got this skin. The snowy white softness of Ruby’s cheeks when I hold them in my leathery old hands reminds me how blessed I am to have lived this long, to have been privileged to see my children grow, to embrace a new generation of my love-line. I know this is a sweet spot in life: my mother is still with us, as are all my siblings and Dave’s siblings, and our children are well and whole and faithful; our grandchildren are small and innocent and unable to make major mistakes; Dave is happy with his work and I can walk and play my instrument and sing. I recall seven years ago, when Guillain Barre Syndrome redefined my life, wondering if I would ever do any of those things again.
I run the pad of my left thumb over its sister-fingertips, recognizing the hard calluses on top of each finger earned by hours of purposeful guitar playing. For over a year, when I was ill, those fingertips were soft and supple, the calluses having peeled away after the nerve endings were stripped away beneath the skin. Thank you, Lord, for calluses on my hands and on my feet. They are evidence of use.
I have spent this past year in a deliberate creative mode: writing songs, arranging and re-arranging songs, interfacing with skilled musicians, singing and re-singing twelve little tunes that became an album called ONE SMALL BOY. I’ve been so busy doing it I have offered no acknowledgment of it in any other place than my own heart.
Few people understand what goes into making an independent recording. That’s ok, people don’t need to know. Besides, everyone does it differently. Suffice it to say it is a lot of work, thousands of hours from the inception of the songs, each one having their own birth process, clear up to the completion of the artwork for the cover. We were blessed with a beautiful and large audience for two album release concerts, one at the First Presbyterian Church in SLC and another at the Farmington Arts Center. The album has received good reviews and has sold well. I have been performing nearly every night since mid-November, and gigs continue until just before Christmas.
I am surprised and grateful that anyone still wants to hear my music. I’m grateful to my best roadie, my housemate and the winner of my heart, Dave, for making these nightly engagements more fun than work. It is a task to lug equipment into a different venue every night; to set it up and adjust it for a new space; to perform according to the group’s schedule, then break it all down and lug it back out to the van…only to repeat the same process the next night…and the next. What would I do without Dave? Or Mark Robinette, who gives me his voice and his bass and his muscle and skill for every performance where he was not previously booked to play with the Orchestra at Temple Square or Joe Muscolino Band. Music almost always tastes better when its shared.
It’s a risky thing to make a new album. Risky, too, to stand before a different audience each night and try to touch them with music they have not heard before. One day I’ll be too tired to take the risk.
But not today. The fulfillment still outweighs the work. We’ll drag our load of equipment up the canyon to Taggarts restaurant and play for yet another company party tonight. I’ll continue to celebrate each CD order I package and label and drop at the post office. I’ll open the red door on the front of my house and peer into the milk box to see who has come while I was away. What could be more wonderful for a maker of music? It’s like…well…it’s kind of like Christmas!

Friday, November 13, 2009

MY MOTHER IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE WORLD


When I was small and we were living in Pleasant Hills, PA in the Tudor house on Old Clairton Road, I came home from school on a Wednesday afternoon in early May. It only matters that it was Wednesday because Wednesday was Library Day at Pleasant Hills Elementary School, and I had a new book in my canvas book bag. I loved Library Day, maybe because it felt freeing to my brain to not have to stuff information in there for a half hour, and no one was going to test me on anything. More likely because a library, especially one full of children’s books, is that beautiful balance of aesthetic and information: order mixed with stories mixed with color and design.

These were the blessed days of my childhood, when our mother answered our Hello’s when as walked in the front door. When there was often something stewing on the stove top or the aroma of fresh laundry wafting up from the basement. I recognize that this was a sweet spot in my life, that I am fortunate to have had a mother who was at home for some space of my childhood. By my teenage years we had to wait up till very late at night to see her; weary from long days working for a paycheck.

The book in my bag was called My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World. It caught my eye because of the title. I had not had enough time in the Library to read it completely, so (here’s the sweetest thing of all) my memory of that book has the sound of my mother’s voice reading it to me. I love my mother’s voice. I recall falling asleep to it when I would go in to ask her something and she was on the phone. Like a lullaby, it lulled me to rest, all comforting and steady. When I was in fifth grade and my teacher, Mrs. Jackson, declared that I was a poet, it was hearing those silly little poems I wrote falling from my mother’s lips that made me believe it.

With my sisters gathered around me, and perhaps my brother, (though he may have been off inventing something,) Mom began:

Varya was a peasant girl….

The story unfolded sweetly; about a small Ukrainian girl who fell asleep in a pile of wheat during harvest and when she awoke her mother was gone. Varya searched the fields but could not find her. Crying by the side of the road she asked the workers making their way home from the fields if they had seen her mother. “What does she look like?” they asked, and she answered, “My mother is the most beautiful woman in the world!” So searchers scanned the villages all around and gathered the most beautiful women into the town center. Varya looked at the gathering of ladies and began to sob. Finally a voice called from outside the circle as a short lump of a woman with a toothless smile and a scarf wrapped tightly around her sweaty forehead made her way into the center. “Varyachka!” she called! “Mammachka!” cried Varya, and they fell into each other’s arms. In the end the mayor of the town turns to the people and reminds them that we do not love people because they are beautiful; they are beautiful to us because we love them. Most people see with their eyes. Varya has taught us the truest things are seen with the heart.

I had the book for a whole week. We read it over and over. Like scripture. Like scripture because somewhere down inside the center of me, deep behind the belly button, I knew it was true. We all did. Not that our mother was not physically beautiful, but that it did not matter whether or not she was.

These days Mom sits in the seat next to me when I drive on our “outings”. I look over at her striking profile, 86 years in the making. Her long slender nose, her snowy white hair, her well defined lip line and sparkling eyes. She is as beautiful as any woman I have ever seen, or will ever see.

At night, during the remaining years I lived at home with Mom, my sisters and I called from our beds before we turned out our lights; a response to her telling us to sleep well: “Good night Mammachka, I love you.”

How blessed we are to be able to say that still; to hear her voice comforting us; feel her hand touching us; find peace in the rhythm of her breathing as she rests.

Today is my mother’s 86th Birthday. I thank the Lord for her, today and every day. She is, and always will be, the most beautiful woman in the world.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Well, since this is a rarely updated blog and very few people read it anyway, I feel like I am not risking a lot by throwing a question out to people I know.
I am putting the finishing touches on my new Holiday Album, called ONE SMALL BOY. It's been a labor of love and I have really enjoyed writing, playing, singing and recording with my friends, especially my engineer Mark Stephenson. We have two more full days in the studio, then we go to mix down next week, which is another intense week or two. Then to replication.
Not that you wanted to know all that.
Anyway, I am scheduled to give an ALBUM RELEASE CONCERT on Sat Nov 28th at the First Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City. It's a wonderful old church full of charm and spirit.
So here's my dilemma:
Libby called yesterday to tell me that BYU is playing the U of U that very day, in Provo, at 3:00. I am wondering if that conflict is enough to change the concert to Friday instead of Sat? If you wanted to do both you might be very tired.
Let your voice be heard, if you don't mind. I need to make the change if possible ASAP.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

ANNIE MAKES ME LAUGH


I'm thinking about Annie at the moment, while I wait for the potatoes to cook. I'm thinking about how she can make me laugh. Like when she was little and Libby was opening a Popsicle and Annie wanted some, so Libby said,"What's the magic word?" And Annie, crawling up on the counter top, paused and thought very seriously, then lifted her eyebrows with complete confidence as she chimed..."BIPPITY, BOPPITY, BOO!"

So now I'm thinking about her sitting with her little Primary kids in church, singing songs. It was someone's birthday, so they were singing one of the three Primary Birthday songs which have been in existence since before I was born...the one that goes like this (imagine the music, you Mormon-ites):

You've had a birthday shout hooray
We'd like to sing to you today
One year older and wiser too
Happy Birthday...to you!

Well right at the point where I put those three little dots, those little dots we all SO OVERUSE in our blog writing...right where those little dots are is where I taught our Primary kids to clap their hands on the downbeat...for emphasis. I think a Primary Chorister must have taught me that when I was little. So Annie is sitting there in her little Ward in Salt Lake City singing along with all the kids and grown-ups and where the singing stops...at the dots...she claps her hands. Of course no one else does.
So they all look at her like..."Hmmmm, we see you are really enthusiastic Sister Merrill!"
She looks around and turns red and smiles, then shrugs her shoulders.

Makes me laugh
Thanks for making me laugh Nanners!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

OH WELL

So I ended up with something like 73 points from my cleaning quest, earning myself ZERO rewards and no residual "self esteem" which no one can give us we just have to earn. Sheesh.
Turns out that the night I created my self imposed whip thrashing duty list one of my oldest and truest friends passed away. Unexpectedly. With no warning. It's thrown me for a loop. Two nights ago I had to listen to what I have so far on the album so I could decide how to best use my studio time and I drove around till 2 am. Ended up outside Lonnie and Ardene's house, looking into the sky above their home and sobbing. My kitchen counter is still covered with stuff. The peaches are weeping in their skins inside their half-bushel basket. Stacks of papers remain untouched.
And who cares.
Not me.
At least I pretend I don't.
I think it is sort of rude of the world to keep spinning. For papers to keep coming in the mail. For the phone to keep ringing. For our own bodies to want to eat and to sleep. Everything should stop, at least for a minute, pause out of respect if nothing else. Ardene Bullard is heaven bound and we are earth bound and none of us are the same. The world should stop, for a sec, don't you think?
So I'm feeling a little melencholy and a little alone. I'm focused on this Christmas Album II because I have to be if I want it to be out before Christmas.
Saturday night I did a benefit concert with my friends Nancy Hanson and Cherie Call. Cherie is doing a new album, too. She's starting this week and plans to have it for sale in October.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I said. Mind you I've been working on mine since last December. (The very day, in fact, that our Bishop called me to be Young Womens President.) So I knew from the get go there might be a little time conflict. Cherie has a producer. Scott Wiley, in fact. I have to talk myself out of being jealous.
In my way of thinking there are two kinds of time. There's REAL TIME, and there's EMOTIONAL TIME. I may have enough real time to do all sorts of things. But my emotional time and my actual time do not match up. Some things may only take five minutes of real time, but they are hours of emotional time.
My EMOTIONAL time is gone. I keep trying to make more, trying to get a little UMPH in my head and my body. But I'm having trouble finding it.
Making an album, for me, is a rather solitary thing. I miss Merlyn. I miss having someone as interested as I am in this thing that takes so much of my creativity, my intelligence, my energy and my interest. I miss having someone want to hear what I did in the studio today, to care that there's now live bass, or to help me decide if the vocal is good enough. It's OK. It's my choice to do this. But it is a rather risky thing to do and it gets a little lonely sometimes. So next time you hear a recording of a song, even on the elevator, try to figure out how many instruments and how many people are playing on that thing and how long it took collective minds (or solitary minds, in some cases) to create that 3 minute piece of entertainment.
Or, don't.
It really doesn't matter. We do what we do because we want to , or because someone we owe allegience to compels us to do it.
I am rambling. I'll quit.
It's time to go to the YW volleyball game anyway.

Monday, August 17, 2009

WHAT I SHOULD BE DOING INSTEAD OF BLOGGING

Saturday night I sang at a fabulous party in the fabulous yard of a very hip young couple with a fabulously gorgeous house with a minimalist flair. Amazing catered meal and lovely large white lanai and white linens on the tables. I would have felt out of place except they understood and liked my music.
So then we drove home and picked up John and Ash's kids because J&A were singing at a very hip and cool wedding reception. Libby had been watching the kiddos and they were happy and bathed and tired. We drove them to their house to settle them into their own beds. So, aside from the little glitch in the story where we had to put Sophie through the kitchen window to get into their house, we laid the kids down in their own beautiful and hip and tidy home and waited for John and Ash to come home.
So then we drove home and I walked into my house, which I love and cherish and know has great potential. I have been prone to tears for the 30 hours since. I am faced with the reality of my situation...of the condition of my surroundings. the surroundings of my soul and of my body and I have been a little sad. Everywhere I look is a mess. Soph didn't even want to pick up the thumbtacks she spilled Saturday because she was afraid of the "spider webs" on the floor.

"Those aren't spider webs, Love. They're dust bunnies."

"Oh." She said, and she used the very tips of her fingers to gather the rest.

It's a little overwhelming to think of tackling what I have dug myself into. So I woke up early this morning and made this list and gave myself the possibility of earning points for doing these tasks this week. Seriously, what am I...6 years old or something????

□ Nightstand – 50
□ Trip luggage etc – 50
□ Bathroom counter – 50
□ Kitchen counters – 150
□ Locker room floor – 100
□ Locker room chairs – 50
□ Study desktop RT – 50
□ Vacuum wood floors – 50
□ Mop wood floors – 50
□ Kitchen table – 50
□ Vacuum bedroom – 50
□ Clean off stairs – 50
□ One bag DI stuff – 50
□ Pantry – 150
□ Study chairs and floor – 50
□ Dust furniture – 50
□ Clean bathrooms – 50
□ Pick paint for bathroom – 50
□ Paint bathroom – 150

You might think that cleaning off the kitchen counter should not get so many points. Alas...COME ON OVER! And I don't know what I was thinking giving clean bathrooms only 50 points...this house has 7 bathrooms! But they are so much more do-able because I know what to do with the stuff there. Ah, me.
So I am supposed to be chipping away at the chores and what am I doing instead?
You got it.

Monday, August 3, 2009

HURON CALLING

27 Years ago we moved our little family from Pittsburgh PA to Farmington UT, taking with us the only grandchildren of David's parents. I ache with guilt at having done that, not that it was the wrong thing to do, but because we removed from our children the daily impact of good grandparents. Since I am now Gummy to five little ones I also ache knowing that this decision kept the joy of little arms around the knees from Dave's parents. We knew when we moved to SLC that we would be spending every vacation back east, either in Pittsburgh or on the lake in Michigan. Two generations back Dave's Grandpa Roy gave each of his five daughters beautiful lots down the beach from their cottage on Lake Huron. Dave's Mom, Helen, finally built her own wonderful cottage on the Lake in 1992. It is a most delightful and beautiful place, full of her charm and personality. Two years after she built it we spent a great week here, playing on the beach and toasting marshmallows around a fire at night while the waves lapped against the shore and the Huron breezes swept through the trees. At the end of the week Helen drove us to the airport early in the morning. We flew home to our new house in Farmington. As we walked in, the phone was ringing. When I picked it up it was Dave's Dad. He asked for Dave. I handed Dave the phone and watched him back up against the door of the fridge with the phone to his ear. He called his father's name and groaned, then slid down the fridge door until he landed with his head in his hands repeating "No, No, No". Helen had been in a car accident somewhere between the Saginaw Airport and the cottage in Tawas. Her spirit rose up to heaven before we got home. I imagine she paused to peek in the window of an airplane on her way up, checking one last time on her four young grandchildren and her son. It remains among the deepest of life's sorrows for us.
This week we are at her cottage. All of our children and grandchildren, along with Dave's two sisters , Brother-In-Law Joe and nephew Ned. Seventeen of us. It's cozy. And it is wonderful! At this moment it is well after Midnight. Chelle has just arrived with her 9 year old puppy, Jessie. The kids are all laughing about an ice hotel in Sweden, where they are planning to take a vacation. This conversation evolved from their sand castle conversation, which led to a Google slide show of world class sand castles, which led to ice castles, which led to the ice hotel where they are planning a family reunion. Someone has re-discovered the pot of chicken noodle soup and the Mooney's ice cream in the freezer. The fans are spinning and spoons are clanking and a slap of laughter just rose up when Sarah announced that the ice hotel is only $2100 a night. The little ones are sleeping soundly in their sun tinged skin, all worn out from a long day at the beach.
Gramma Connors, too, is here. In the colorful dishes she placed behind the glass doors of the kitchen cupboards; in the red checkered couches where I snuggled with her great-grandchildren and read storybooks this evening. She is in the aroma of baked beans heating up in the oven. We're cooking them through the night tonight so the kitchen won't be so hot tomorrow. She has put marshmallow chocolate puffy cookies in the cookie jar, though our hands. We can taste her.

This morning I awoke to the sound of Helen. There was a light rain in the trees and I could hear her voice in the living room. When my waking state pulled me completely to reality I understood it to be Jill talking. She has music in her voice, like her mother. And she is the best of who her mother was, in all respects.
So here we are, Mom. We're here in your place and missing you and thinking how lucky we are to be together; to like each other besides loving each other. Thank you for building this home; for building this family. Huron keeps calling us back, and you are always here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

2 am

Confession:
I have never read a single Harry Potter book.
There, now you know.
And I finally gave myself permission to quit reading the classic "100 Years of Solitude" by Gabrielle Garcia Marquez after wading through something like 972 pages. Just couldn't stay with it, and could not be stirred by it.
I am burdened with a serious case of literary ADD. Essays. Short David Sadaris stories. That's my level of concentration.
The nightstand on my side of the bed is going to come crashing down like an avalanche the next time I put another book/magazine/Internet article printed off at 2 am on top of the pile.
The only thing that consistently holds my interest is ice cream. I know I should learn to feast with my eyes. But very few things are as yummy as ice cream at 2 am.
Except maybe To Kill a Mockingbird.
Maybe I'll give that another read.
Sorry, Harry.

Friday, June 26, 2009

LIBBY - LIBBY - LIBBY


What are the odds?

What are the odds that when you put your penny in the gumball machine (yes, young-'uns...they used to cost a penny) you are going to get the EXACT gumball you want AND the tiny cracker jack toy that you were wishing for at the same time? What are the odds that on your first cast of the day you catch a sweet little Brookie with a nice sharp upper fin that hasn't been worn down by swimming his whole life on a fish farm; one that has perfect fight and leaps into the air in front of the rising sun? Who gets so lucky to actually be assigned to the absolute favorite fifth grade teacher? Or win that puppy in the penny auction down at the middle school?

Not that I am one to keep track of these things; but I am a pretty lucky gal. I should bet on me, really! I find money lieing in the road when three people in front of me have missed it. I found a dime right in front of my shoe just yesterday. I won the class election by something like three votes my junior year. Goodness...DAVE CONNORS married me!! Talk about LUCK! (that was 32 years ago yesterday, by the way. Happy Anniversary, Love!)

Luck in its purest form came drifting down from heaven and charmed me 50 years ago today. It remains with me still. I was just teeny, barely walking and still getting used to having a body. My Mom brought Luck home in a blanket, swaddled around her like a papoose. Her orange red hair made her swaddled body look like she was an early summer carrot. They named her Elizabeth, after our grandmothers, but I didn't know that for many years. To me she was just LIBBY.

She was the perfect playmate! And I mean PERFECT! She was always happy to play whatever I wanted to play. Pioneers and cowboys riding horses on the basement banisters. Dressing Barbies for a play on the Camelot stage in the basement. Rocking back and forth in the attic in pretend rocking chairs, our matching Madame Alexander Pussycat dolls snuggled in our arms. If I wanted to experiment with Elmer's Glue and string, she thought it was a brilliant idea. If I wanted to pretend the crab apple tree was a space ship she was co-pilot. If it was a rainy day and we couldn't play outside she spent six straight hours on top of our twin beds with me, never once setting foot on the ground because that was the ocean and our beds were boats and we were lost at sea but at least we had each other. At least we had each other.

A few years ago when Guillain Barre smacked me upside the head and knocked me over, Libby picked me up and set me in a wheel chair. Pushed me through the corridors of the hospitals, taking notes; researching on the Internet in the wee hours of the night, arming herself with questions for the doctors the next day. Even still she is sensitive to how I might feel, years after most people forgot how sick I was. Almost two years ago she and I sat side by side while the doctors told us not to expect our mother to live through some emergency surgery. We clung to each other, shaking our heads, looking into each others eyes for long long moments, unable to process the possibility. We waited for our other sisters to arrive. They drove through the night from California. Our brothers came, too. We clustered there in Mom's hospital room for two weeks, all through the night and all through the day, taking turns playing songs and telling stories. Everyone rotated going home for rest now and again. But Libby never left. She is devotion personified. She is faith and tenderness and determination. She is gentleness and sincerity. And she is laughter. Tell me if there is a finer recipe for a human being?

Libby considers herself lucky, too. She reminds me of that when I watch her bend her knees and lift our mother into her wheel chair. "I am so lucky" she will say, then she will look in our mother's eyes and whisper; "And you are so beautiful!" She will say these words to our 85 year-old mother as she kisses her on the forehead. Every time she lifts her she kisses Mom's snowy-white hair. Her back hurts. She has muscles where 50 year old women who don't work out at the gym usually don't have muscles. They are earned by daily repetitions in love.
She is a nurturer extraordinaire! When we were young and whispering our dreams to each other across the pathway between our beds, we never could have imagined that she would not bear children of her own, with a husband who was strong like the ones on Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Never ever would have imagined it. And yet.

So instead of becoming bitter; instead of withering in self pity or wondering why God doesn't seem to love her as much as other women; she throws her arms open and pulls all our children into her heart. Holds them there when their own parents can hardly stand them. Loves them and adores them and is not afraid to let them have it if they need that, too. She is the soul of goodness and virtue and I cannot believe I am so LUCKY...so gosh darn lucky to have her for my sister!

What are the odds?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, LIB!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

FOND FAREWELL

There are a few people who do not share my blood, nor my name, but who are settled permanently and firmly in my heart. Anyone who knows me well would know that Merlyn Schofield is one of these. More than half-my-life ago Merlyn stood on the stage of the new Farmington North Stake Center and sang a song for the stake talent night. We had just moved to Utah from PA. I had been talking to someone in the hall when a door opened and I could hear her angelic and compelling voice wafting through the doorway. Like a fishing line cast across the sea of audience she caught me and drew me in. The program had indicated that she had written the song, which blew me away and I must admit made me a tad jealous, so I made it a point to hunt her down and introduce myself, telling her how beautiful I thought her song was. She laughed and said "Oh Goodness, I didn't write that," her smile emitting an aura of confidence mixed with humility.
Next time we met was in my family room on Kensington Street. I had been asked to sing one of my tunes in church and since I lacked any confidence in my own voice I invited her over to learn the song to sing for me. She sat on my hearth, pulling one knee up into her chest, her head bowed as she listened. When I was finished she said, "How about if you sing the melody and I'll sing harmony?" And that is where music as I know it took the turn in the road that led to today. Merlyn was the voice that was not my mother, who said with all sincerity that I could do it...that I could say what I wanted to say musically as well as it needed to be said. She taught me that the microphone is a friend, not to be feared, and she made the melodies I wrote seem so much prettier than they really are. For many years Merlyn and I gigged and traveled and created and dreamed as a team. I called her the vocal chameleon, because she could make anyone sound so much better. Her solo voice is stunning, and she could have easily had a solo career. But she sings like she walks, with poise and grace and beauty, not upstaging anyone but not curling in either, and she is always happier walking beside someone. I am blessed to have had her by my side for nearly fifteen years. We made...oh, how many was it... at least 5 albums together. Took numerous trips to Nashville and LA and Boise. She cheered with every award or contract I received. She wept at the lyrics that moved me, and she laughed where I wanted people to laugh. She cradled my children, and nurtured the hundreds of kids who were lucky enough to have her as their teacher. She loves my family like her own, and I love hers.
A few years back, it feels so long ago, Merlyn decided to re-focus her attention and take a break from the rigors of gigging. If you are a musician you understand. People think you don't really work, you just do the "fun". But the reality of it is that equipment is a pain to lug around, finding strange locations in the days before map quest was a challenge, and the hours are long. You leave at 5:00 for a 7:00 gig, which actually ends up starting at 7:45 because they started the dinner late. When you're done you get to disassemble the sound system and lug it back out to the car, then unload it when you finally get home at midnight. "But you only sang for 40 minutes", they say, expecting that the meager payment is plenty for the sacrifice. Our working hours conflicted with the time she spent with her husband, Kevin, and she decided some things were...well...eternal. So that's when I also stopped singing, until I couldn't stand the silence any more and I started to go solo. I still ache to hear her voice beside mine.
Saturday morning Merlyn called.
"Cori...?"
"Merlyn!" I said, "how are you? How's Kevin?" Kevin had been in the hospital for a couple months, recovering from a serious brain infection that started with, perhaps, a scrape on his hand that was left untreated.
"Cori, I just wanted you to know that Kevin passed away this morning."
What do you say then? What works, in the Things Everybody Wishes They Knew How To Say book of quotations? I didn't know, and I still don't. But I do know that saying nothing is not an option. So instead we weep together.
The other day she called and asked if I would sing Give Me Jesus at Kevin's funeral on Saturday. Of course I will, though I wonder how I will get through it. If you ever see me singing at a funeral with my eyes closed you will know that I must not look into the eyes of the people I love sitting directly in front of me. It's only science, something having to do with chemistry and the making of tears and nasal drainage and the thickening of vocal chords. It's a hard thing, wanting the emotion to be true and sincere, but knowing that if you go too far the song won't come out and people won't hear it if you can't sing it. When my young nephew Clayton died, Merlyn stood beside me to sing at his funeral. Overcome with sorrow, my voice gave out. After a measure or two, Merlyn wrapped her arm around my shoulder and jumped from the harmony up to the melody, finishing the song for me. She is grace and kindness and gentleness personified.
Today I was in my car at the airport. I was waiting for my sister Sherry to arrive. While I waited I found a CD from a recording session with the song Give Me Jesus on it. We recently recorded it for the new Christmas CD I'm working on. So I put it in the player in the car and listened. That song gets to me every time. It is so simple and so pure and the fellows who play it with me play it with such tenderness it is like we are all four testifying through the song.
Sitting there in the drivers seat I listened to the last verse...
"And when I've come to die
And when I've come to die
Oh, and when I've come to die
Give me Jesus."
As I listened to Michael Huff's lyrical piano, Dave Eskelsen's brilliant guitar, and Mark Robinette's deeply resonant bow drawing across the strings of his bass, I watched an unknown woman walking down the sidewalk toward my car. She had deep red hair and was pulling a suitcase behind her. As she looked up she obviously saw someone she loved, because a vibrant smile spread across her face and her pace hastened. As she passed my car I looked in my rear view mirror, watching her embrace what appeared to be her grown son. He threw his arms around her, and she dropped her bag, enveloping him in her kisses. Tears wove down the sides of my face, quickly running down my neck and into my blouse. In my mind I imagined Kevin and Pauline, his mom, her hands cupping his face as she found his eyes again. A mom and her only son reunited in that heaven place.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus
You can have all this world
But give me Jesus.
Farewell, friend and brother. Comfort and peace, dear Merlyn.
(obituary)
Kevin Larry Schofield 1955 ~ 2009 KAYSVILLE - Kevin Larry Schofield passed away Saturday, June 13, 2009, after a long illness. He was born April 23, 1955, in Ogden, Utah, the son of Carl Robert and Pauline Burningham Schofield. He married Merlyn Smith, January 5, 1978, in the Idaho Falls LDS Temple. Kevin realized his dream of starting and operating a labor union in 1998 - Utah Alliance of Government Employees. Throughout his career Kevin assisted countless members through difficult situations with compassion and grace. Kevin enjoyed spending time in the outdoors, especially riding Harleys with his friends. Kevin was a member of the LDS church and served honorably in all his callings. He especially loved his work with the youth of the church. He is survived by his wife Merlyn; his sister Taryn; and countless nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and his dog Micky. To celebrate the life and memory of Kevin, funeral services will be held Saturday, June 20, 2009, at 11 a.m. at the Kaysville 17th Ward Chapel, 875 E. 200 N., Kaysville. Funeral directors, Lindquist's Kaysville Mortuary, 400 North Main. Donations on behalf of Kevin may be made to the Kevin Larry Schofield Memorial Fund at Barnes Bank, 33 S. Main St., Kaysville, UT 84037. Our family invites you to express a favorite memory of Kevin by sending e-mail condolences to the family at www.lindquistmortuary.com Interment, Kaysville City Cemetery.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

WOTD - PRECAUTION


The word of the day is: precaution

Parker’s little legs are three years old. Barely three years old, and full of little boy energy and reckless abandon. He runs down my driveway without the benefit of steady rhythm, the way I beat on my legs like they are drums but I’m not a drummer. Fast, but undisciplined. I fear he will not get the second little knee in front of the first in time to keep himself erect. He laughs as he does this, his arms hanging down to his side like he is throwing the wind behind him and his head bobbing as he chases after a ball or heads to the garage when he notices a hammer. Sometimes the legs don’t keep up, then we get to snuggle and hug until mommy gets home. Three years old. This is the tail end of the pre-caution days. Soon he will learn to be careful. He will remember the fall and the hurt and the blood and the tears and he will say to himself at the top of the driveway, “Remember….” And though he will still hurry, it will be a hurry without innocence.

I weep for the steady loss of naiveté I see dripping out of my grandchildren. I savor every time Sophie says she wants to make chot-lick drop cookies, knowing soon she will notice someone snickering over the translation of the word chocolate. She will crank her head to the side, purse her eyebrows and think about what they are talking about; then she’ll notice that grownups say “chocolate” and she will determine to change the way she says it and that will be the end of it. Timo will realize, if he hasn’t already that the words to the song Take Me Out to the Ballgame are “root, root, root for the home team” and not “fruit, fruit, fruit for the Pirates”.
My boy went through this, and all my girls. They all lost the “pre” and have decided to hang on to the “caution”. Some, more than others. My boy, with the child-heart of three year old Parker, hangs too heavy on the caution. I thought this might never come. I wondered if he would live through his years of reckless abandon. But he turned his head on his way up the mountain he said he would live on as a bachelor-hobo-writer and saw her. Could not turn his head back away from her. Found himself tethered to the love of his life, to taking care of her, and the three little ones who came through her. They stand in four corners, each holding a thread that keeps him attached to the ground like the ropes on a hot air balloon. Wit and whimsy are a flame, burning in the center of him. The heat keeps him aloft. The love keeps him grounded.

If anything will pop the balloon, or douse the flame, it will be his own propensity to worry, to imagine the worst of all scenario and fixate on it. He fights this. Four years of University study of world philosophy, two years of a religious flood as a missionary in England and Wales; all this gave categories for his worries, but did not take them away. Few people know his thoughts. Even he does not know all of them. They play as background to the music in his headphones. But they are always there. It is what makes him look in the rear view mirror when he backs out; what keeps his children in his peripheral vision when they are at the beach; what makes him stop to see Gram even when he’s worn out tired. They make him a poet and an artist and they make his guitar strings ring. I would take those deep thoughts away to give him rest, but the music is just so beautiful.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

OUR ANNIE!


Some particular moments are pivotal, like little stepping stones across the river of life, and they are worth noting because they represent something bigger than themselves. I tack them to the bulletin board in my head, and of course in my heart, but distance tends to make them dim, so I make note of one such moment here on a Sunday night when other people are in their pajamas and curled up with a book as they drift off to sleep. Most of my journal writing has been done at this time of night, when quiet finally settles like a fresh sheet over the bed; when I am recalling the choruses of songs the day has sung to me. Sundays in particular make me reminiscent for the past week. Or weeks. Tonight I am recalling with tenderness the moment nearly two weeks ago when our youngest child, Annie, stood on the floor of the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah, a mortar board on her head and Masters Robes hanging down the back of her gown. We needed binoculars to see her all the way down there from our row on the top, where wheelchairs are given place and her Gram could be with us.

From our perch there Jordon texted Annie's cell phone and told her to LOOK UP! We had driven secretly to the airport before the ceremony and picked up Kate, who had flown in from Houston to surprise her sister. Annie squinted, and noticed Kate then got a little choked up. Some things you just make it a point to attend. Like funerals. It matters when we put our feet in the place where someone's life is celebrated in retrospect, where loved ones need the energy sharing, where attending is a signal of respect, if nothing else, for what someone has done or been. I can still tell you the names of people who travelled from our neighborhood to the funeral of our nephew, Clayton. Things like that really mean something, even if we try to tell ourselves they don't. So Kate being there was a statement, besides being a joy.
Annie earned her Masters degree in Speech Language Pathology and has already secured a position with the Davis School District. She and Jordon are in the process of building a house in Kaysville and we don't have to tell you how ecstatic we are that they will be close by!
I recall when Annie was in seventh grade, just starting Farmington Junior High School. Annie was one who worried about things too much. She worried about something happening to us in the car, or while she was at school. She made it a point to look us in the eye whenever we parted and say "I love you more than you could ever imagine", holding her hand in the American Sign Language hand symbol for I LOVE YOU. We still write ILYMTYCEI on our cards and letters to each other. She has also always been a determined gal, setting goals that seem rather lofty, if not impossible sometimes. She determined in seventh grade that she was going to do two things: First, she was going to play on the Farmington Jr High basketball team, even though she was all of 4' 9" at the time. "Oh, that's uh, good Annie!" I hesitated as I spoke, worrying that being too enthusiastic about that goal would give her false hope. Secondly, she decided she was going to be smart. Nearly her whole life the most hurtful thing anyone could do to her would be to call her stupid. Turns out she accomplished both goals. She did play basketball for Farmington Jr and for Viewmont High. The shortest girl on the team, but the winner of the "Hustle" award. And the same is true of her academic aspirations. We celebrate her determination and her faithful dedication to all things she aspires to achieve. What an amazing woman she is! For Mothers day last week Annie presented to us a cherished gift. If you look at the picture of Annie you will see a red sash around her neck with the University of Utah insignia embroidered near the point. Annie and Jordon framed that sash, known as the Sash of Gratitude graduates wear in honor of someone of their choosing. This is what Annie wrote on her sash:
Mom and Dad~
Thank you for all your love and support in helping me reach my dreams. I love you more than you could ever imagine.
Love,
Annie
Tears rolled from her eyes as she handed it to us, and we wept together at the rush of emotion wrapped in memories that hurled in a flash through our embrace. She is a child of our hearts, cherished and beloved, and no parents could be more proud nor grateful than we.
Annie, Nanners, Banana and Bananza...remember always to LOOK UP! We are cheering for you up there in the rafters, always and forever!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

STEPS


Word of the Day - steps

We're at that in-between place in our family story, where the little ones are outgrowing the toddle stage and are actually running, and the teeny one is just barely trying rice cereal so it will be a while before she takes her first steps. I am afraid too many of us take for granted the ability to take steps. I say this from experience. When Guillain Barre came crushing into me six years ago, pressing me into my bed and paralyzing my limbs as it stripped the myelin sheaths from the long thin nerve strands of my body, I learned to appreciate walking. Even still, after the blessed power of healing set me upright once again, I have super zingy nerves in my feet to remind me every time I take a step. Any little touch or motion and my feet feel like your arm does when you hit your crazy bone. I've gotten pretty used to it now, but I wonder sometimes what it would feel like to be unaware of your legs. Every time I think that, I picture my friend Joan, who has no legs, and I am grateful for the pain. "What Joan wouldn't give, " I say to myself, "to have legs that hurt." I do deal with a leftover fear of stairs though. I'm not sure if this doesn't have more to do with the nightmares I have had about falling down stairs as my entrance to the Pearly Gates, or if it has to do with the balance and timing issues associated with peripheral nerve damage. Anyway, I avoid steps as much as I can, though if there are two handrails and I have nothing in my arms I can handle them fine.

Steps, in general, have become just a good place to take pictures. Think in your mind of the various steps upon which you have stood for your family photos. We have a cherished snapshot of our clan on the steps of Presinden Hinckley's office building. We had been invited to come sing him a song I had written called Stand a Little Taller. He was so warm and gracious to us that day you can see it in our faces there on his steps. More recently we are at the state Courthouse when Dave faced the Senate, receiving their approval to become the next state court judge. The cold marble of those steps echoed our whispers of celebration as we huddled together before the cameras. Eight years ago yesterday John stood in his tuxedo and Ashley in her satin gown on the steps of the Salt Lake Temple. We who love them gathered around them, clear up to the massive temple doors, looking out while Sophie, Parker and Ruby peeked in from their heaven place, the way my sisters and I used to peek through the banisters at the grown ups having a party down in the living room. We have cherished portraits on the steps of various temples, with missionaries and brides and grooms standing in the center. Next week Annie will stand on the steps of the Huntsman Center wearing a cap and gown, velvet stripes of her Masters Degree wrapped around her arms. We have photos of babies in long white blessing gowns on the front steps of our home, and first day of school snapshots on the front stoop.

On the bead board wall at the side of my fridge there are two sentimental items hanging. One is a needlework piece my sister Sue made as a housewarming gift. When we moved from the old house to this current one she "stole" from our fridge a hand scribbled list of Family Rules we had made for Home Evening one night. There were three rules. Here's what it says:


HOUSE RULES

NO FIGHTING: It makes us ugly and unhappy

NO TV UNTIL HOMEWORK IS DONE

WORK HARD THEN PLAY HARD: There is no excuse for boredom


Above that is an old oval frame with a photo of my Grandmother Lizzie. She is standing on the steps of a courthouse, somewhere in Idaho, probably Pocatello. She is holding a pair of spoons in position atop a metal pot. She is surrounded by other women bearing similar items of domestic musicianship: one holds a washboard; another has a frypan made into a banjo; one has a griddle with various items of percussion dangling from it, like a triangle and a measuring cup, a ladle and an ice pick; one has what appears to be a wash basin plunger, another holds the basin. They all have pointy white hats with the letters B.G. appliqued and banners across their chests that say BLACKFOOT GRANGE.

I never knew my Grandmother Lizzie Parrish. She died when my own mother was just 14 years old. But I can tell a bit about her from this black and white photograph hanging in my kitchen. Though she appears rather sober in expression, I hear laughter in the fact that she was willing to walk among her friends, the other wives of Blackfoot farmers, banging a pot in a KITCHEN BAND in a hometown parade. I imagine them stitching their uniforms, making their instruments, rehearsing their numbers. It makes the corners of my lips turn heavenward as she speaks to me from the grave. I feel her looking at me as I sling my guitar strap over my shoulder. "Don't forget, little one," she whispers, "Don't forget that the best music you make is here in your kitchen." I am told she had a lovely, angelic voice. She used it from the pulpit in church meetings, to soothe crying babies and troubled hearts on Sunday mornings. Still, the photo I have of her is in her Kitchen Band, standing on some steps with her friends, pounding on a pot. She reminds me to be real. Sometimes I wink at her when I walk by.
"Thanks, Gramma Lizzie" I think to myself, and I imagine her nodding to me from her heaven place, up there between the rungs of the banister as she looks down on me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

YES

Word of the Day today is: YES

Though I made my mother swear to keep me from falling in love and marrying until I was at least 26 and had my PHD in Psychology (yeah, I once thought such a thing was possible), I was a young bride. Nineteen years old, to be exact. At twenty-six I was pregnant with my fourth child. A young bride, and a young mother of a chunk of kids. Goodness, I am amazed any of us survived me! So many mistakes. Oh my, it turns my stomach to think of it! I was just barely learning to deal with myself when I became responsible for so many powerful young souls. In an attempt to follow the guidance of the mother I admired the most, I tried to keep the reigns tight like my mother had. At least it seemed so in my own mind...that my mom kept tight reigns on her kids. But we're all fairly independent souls, so I'm not sure where that notion came from, except that as a kids we knew exactly...I repeat...e-x-a-c-t-l-y what to expect when we disobeyed our mother! I thought a mother-in-control was a mother who said "No" as a matter of course. "Yes" was a word to be used for only the most perfect occasions. So the day my friend Sally Jo gave me a book by her other friend Jeroldeen Edwards was pivotal for me. One of the essays in her book, which was about the joys and sorrows of parenting something like thirteen children, alluded to her belief that as parents we should try to create within ourselves an instinctive response of YES to our children's desires. YES should prevail until reason supplies evidence in support of NO.
"Yes, Love, we should go out and jump in the rain," or "Yes, I do think we should read another book." I had not considered that these might be appropriate answers. It was rather liberating for me, though I do not profess to have always followed this theory in my parenting. But I know it helped at some level, to have given myself permission to think outside the box of order and control.
Tonight we waved goodbye to my sisters and other family members as they returned to CA. It got late. Sarah and Dave, who are staying with us this month while she works at Tanner Medical Clinic, walked down the street from Gram and Libby's at 11:00. Two year old Anna Bella and five year old Timothy got into their PJ's and brushed their teeth. "OK, time for bed now!" Sarah whispered. Timo started to sob..."But you promised we would have our family movie night!" Tears from both little sets of eyes, and really sad, really tired moans, and Mommy looked at Daddy. Soon enough they were all snuggled into pillows on the TV room floor with a 1/2 hour Disney show.
The rest of the "normal", "scheduled" world may criticize. Snuggling on the floor at midnight when work begins at 8 am might not work for them, and that's OK. But for this little family, whose mommy spends nearly 100 hours a week driving to and from the hospital where she pulls 16 hour shifts in an attempt to fulfill a very big family dream, it is the right thing. I celebrate their ability to turn away from social mores, the ones that tell good Christian women they have only one place they should be, that tell good Christian men where they should be as well, and that tell good Christian children they should be in bed and sleeping at 11:30 pm. I peeked in just five minutes ago and saw love bouncing back and forth there on the line of pillows of our play room floor. This was an exercise in YES. Not the YES of a lazy soul, but the YES of one who hears the sticks of the Big Drummer making the beat for their song.
Some YES' are mistakes, this I know. And so are some NO's. But I have learned that when we are building trust; when we are building friendship; when we are nurturing the ability to dream big and to walk with a little risk in order to get to higher places, YES is the word of choice. At least by instinct. NO may prevail in the end, which is often the right thing, but YES bubbling up first makes for sweeter moments and sweeter memories.

Friday, April 24, 2009

YUM REPORT


Thanks for all the yummy suggestions for our Laurel Luncheon. If I were not already super satiated by a lovely graduation dinner tonight at Market Street Grill (congrats nephew Christopher) I would be thinking of making a quiche right now, with a side of salad and croissants of various sizes. We ended up having a yummy chicken salad on Romaine leaves with Broccoli Cheese soup and warm rolls. I also made a new recipe of lemon shortbreads and brownies, knowing there would be lots left over for a week's worth of nibbles for the current crowd. We have been super duper fabulously blessed to have Sarah and Dave and their two little munchkins with us for the month of April. Sarah, who is in her last year of Pediatrics Residency at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, has been doing a remote rotation at Tanner Medical Clinic in Layton. It's been heavenly to have them here. They leave to return to KC next Thursday and I am feeling the panic of impending withdrawal! There is no greater joy than to have little arms wrap around your legs in the morning, or to feel the warm breath of a little head tucked into your neck at night, or to rub noses while eating yogurt across the high chair tray. Knowing how precious these things are, and how much Sarah misses them with her 30 hour shifts and 80+ hour weeks in Residency, I am so excited for her to finally be done with the training part and into a part time medical practice so she can finally BE with her kids. We are counting down! She amazes me. They all do!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

GOT ANY GOOD IDEAS?

I am so lucky because my life is filled with a fabulous group of young women aged 16-18. We have a luncheon once a month at my house, during the school day, so it's only about 45 minutes long. We really love it! Wednesday is our next Laurel Lunch and I am on the look-out for something new and yummy to serve that's not too heavy and not to difficult. There are 18 of us.
Any suggestions?

Monday, April 13, 2009

COLD TURKEY

I just wiped down the counter top in the kitchen and thought I might head to bed, having the beauty of a wonderful Easter Sunday floating in my brain. Alas, it just did not feel right to head to bed without a stop at the old blog spot. I know my commitment to what I called my Lenten Writing is over now, and I really can just go to bed. But I thought, rather than having to go COLD TURKEY I would just stop and say Hi.

Hi.



night

ps-there is so much I could write about this day...the way the phlox has come into full bloom next to the heather along the rock wall in our front yard...the tender feelings I had for the Young Women in our ward as we shared an Easter Lesson about lambs this morning...the sounds of 20 people gathered around a table with juicy ham and grandma Connors salad and scalloped potatoes and yams and pies...the picture of my white haired mother in her pink sweater looking angelic and springlike...ending the night sitting in a rocker with Dave listening to a rough mix of the recording session I had on Good Friday with Mark Robinette, Dave Eskelsen and Michael Huff with Guy Randle at the board and Carla Eskelsen lending her ear. The song was Give Me Jesus. This 3 hour session will go down as one of the most spiritually complete moments in music for me and when I hear the recording (even in its roughness) I can bring up those feelings, like we were all witnessing there in the studio with our instruments. I would write about all this, but ...you know...I don't HAVE to. ;)

Saturday, April 11, 2009

WORDS


Saturday, April 11, 2009 words
To my friends, some of whom have followed me in this exercise of discipline I imposed upon myself in honor of Lent, which most calendars indicate ends today:
I have been doing what began as Object Writing for many years now. It was suggested to me and a very dear cluster of songwriting friends one summer night on our back deck. Pat Pattison, the head of the Berklee College of Music’s Songwriting Department, had come to Utah to lead a workshop on lyric writing. He stayed at our house, a few times in fact, for various Utah seminars. Pat has a PhD in Philosophy from Notre Dame and our teenage boy and his buddies loved sitting at the table with him discussing the universe and all that mattered in it. We songwriters in earnest loved learning what he knew about good writing. So when we gathered at our house for our monthly songwriters circle, known as Saltwerks, Pat taught us to do Object Writing. Here are the rules, as I interpreted them and as I now teach them in my own lyric writing classes:
OBJECT WRITING
1. Be still
2. Choose an object, any noun (grapefruit, car, slippers, New Jersey, etc.)
3. Set a timer if possible. If not, ask someone to time you for ten minutes.
4. Make yourself aware for the seven senses:
Sight
Sound
Taste
Smell
Touch
Time (of day, year, season, century, etc)
Kinesthetic sense (sense of placement in space, or of motion)
5. Write the object on the top of your paper and begin writing, being aware of the senses and how they interpret the object
6. STOP when ten minutes is up. Limiting your time will make you more likely to exercise again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.
7. Keep your object writing in one place, and be sure to date each one.

I have volumes of OW words, which one year I compiled for my mother for Mother’s Day. She loved that gift. The writing I have been doing for this Lenten exercise has been a little different. First of all, it takes me a lot longer than 10 minutes. Believe me. It does not just fall out like water. But I also do not do much editing, if any. The editor is not invited to these kinds of rehearsals. I have purposefully allowed my mind to go to places of memory and experience in these recent daily writings. I have wanted this sacrifice of my “comfort” (ie-not writing when I don’t feel like it…pretty much most of the time!) to create something that is good for me, if for no one else. I committed to use words from the Internet’s Random Word Generator and not just write what I felt like writing about, as I would normally do in a blog post. The requirement I put upon myself to write even when a word was not particularly inspiring to me has been good for me. What I have discovered is that the most random of words will eventually lead us to more serious, sometimes funny, and almost always meaningful thoughts.
I am a lover of words. Not in the academic way per se. I love them because they were designed to connect us with one another. We can speak volumes in silence, for sure. But we can also say so much with letters strung together. I love to write songs. I love to sing and play songs. But most of all, I love the power of words to communicate. I learned long ago that the more specific we become in our writing, talking about particulars and not in generalizations, the more universal the emotion can be. People will tell me they did not have a Blue Pontiac Station Wagon when they were small, but they absolutely understand and feel their own travels when they hear Pontiac Rocket. My writing these past 40+ days has been likely a little too specific to my life for some people. Maybe a little too personal. But I have thanked the Lord for making me the kind of person who is willing to expose my heart to anyone willing to look. It is a risky thing. Risky, and wonderful. Everybody gets the same me.
I will miss the regularity of communicating, even when no one reads but me. I will NOT miss being dead tired at 1:00 am and realizing I cannot go to bed until I have done my Word of the Day. I will continue writing, for myself mostly, with an occasional posting on this blog. So check back. And be sure to say Hi.
Finally, today, Holy Saturday, we prepare for the most blessed of all days: Easter Sunday. I am stirred to tears at the beauty of belief, and grateful that I have not had to squeeze the willingness to believe into a doubting soul. It comes naturally to me. Not that I never have doubts or questions. But there are a few absolutes that have never shifted from the core of my being. One of them is complete confidence that all mankind is saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. He saves even those who do not believe him, who don’t care to know him. How loving is that?
I pray that the tiny speck that is my life, in the grand portrait of his influence, will have place in the light instead of the shadows, though I understand the need for shadow in portraiture. I hope that anyone will know, after reading more than forty daily random writings, that I am a Christian. I am a wife, a mother, a daughter, sister and friend. I am a grandmother and a teacher. I am a student. And I am a believer.
A blessed Easter to all. Thanks for walking this road with me.

COIN


April 10, 2009 coin
He could not give them back. Though he tried, once his mind let go of it, the coins just fell to the ground, rolling into the corner, some of them. One made its way down the steps of the temple and landed at the feet of a beggar boy. Still, they belonged to him; thirty silver coins, their imprint being burnt into his hands, the ridges of sheckles pressed against the fleshy pads under his thumbs.
"I have accused an innocent man", he tried to tell them, but they had already set the millstone to turning and the grain was already caught in the crushing. No turning back such a stone. And so he turned away from the temple and hanged himself.
My shoulders sink down closer to my heart thinking of Judas. Heavy, heavy sins no thinking soul would commit. I convince myself of this, that he was ill, that he could not have known the seriousness of what he was doing, and once the reality of it hit him, his gut turned to fire and he could no longer breathe with the heat. My devotion to the Master should confidently curse him for what he did. Instead the sinner in me wants to embrace him and weep. I would take the coins from him and change the course of history, freeing the prisoner, and in so doing I would curse the whole of mankind. It is a good thing the Powers did not care. A good thing because I need Jesus. I need him to lay himself on the scale against my heavy weight. I need him to oversee the large canvas being painted by every breathing soul, from yesterday until the last tomorrow. I need his understanding of justice. I need his blessed mercy. I need his footsteps to walk in.
A few years back, on a frigid winter night I rolled from my bed and buried my head in my pillow, worn out from lack of sleep, confused at the depression that had fused itself to my body and frozen the synapse healthy people don't even know is happening in their brains. Quivering in the stillness of that night, I begged God to hear me.
"Are you there?" I whispered into the pillow. "If you are there, do you know what I am feeling? And if you do, why do you let it continue?"
These are the pleadings of a child, like Sophie when she sat in her mama's lap realizing the doctor was about to stick a sharp needle into her leg, confused as to why any caring person would do such a thing.
I do not hear angels, I am sorry to say. I do not hear words whispered in personal revelation from my good sister angels. I wish I did. It would alleviate a lot of mistakes for sure. And I do not have a burning in the bosom either. But that night I heard something. What I heard there, at the side of my bed, was a replaying of a Sunday School lesson from years before. Steve Geary was teaching. I remembered him asking the question: "What does Firstborn mean?" Answers rose from the class...the firstborn son of God the Father; the first born son of the virgin Mary. These we all knew. Why would these thoughts come to me at the side of my bed on a January night? Then, quietly, I heard my own voice answer. Firstborn; it means my own sins, my mistakes and weaknesses, as well as the suffering I may not have called upon myself: these all were experienced in actuality before I ever felt them. They were first born by Him, there in the Garden, when his brothers had fallen asleep in their vigil. Born in that place of crushing, where blood spilt from open pores, where throbbing pain turned to constancy, and where the greatest burden had to have been the loneliness he felt at bearing it alone. Knowing my own personal struggle was completely familiar to someone else made the bearing of it less solitary. That someone knew exactly how I felt was comforting, like we are suddenly excited when someone from our home state is at the large conference in New Jersey. The sharing of familiar things endears others to us. I knew someone knew exactly how I felt, and it made me breathe deeper knowing I was not so alone in this. All this aside from the actual mathematics of payment, of ransoming, of covering the wage for opening the door back home. This was Jesus. This is Jesus.
There is the imprint of a coin burnt into my palm, one I used to sell him to the suffering. I would shake the scars off if I could. Instead, I imagine him lifting my hand in his, him opening my fingers to expose the sin, then laying his own wounded hand atop mine. I feel his goodness rush through me. Sweet, steady breath of heaven, filling my lungs and invigorating my mind.
I cannot give it back, my coin. I cannot say how I know this: but I believe he is OK with that. I am a debtor. He is grace.

Friday, April 10, 2009

COMPILER

April 9, 2009 compiler
There is nothing new. Not really. In the space before the beginning it was matter unorganized, plucked from yonder by Jehovah and Michael and assembled for their Doctoral project. They both got A’s, and graduated with high honors. Their little project was set in motion on an invisible axis where it spins, even after all these years, in the center of that huge eternal planetarium not far from Home. Since then we have just been reorganizing the matter, assembling and compiling, thinking ourselves clever for creating something new, when really all we have done is switched stuff around, like the way they rotate dinner ingredients and give them new names on the menu in a Chinese Restaurant. Not to make less of the beauty of the arrangements that have appeared through the years; stone chiseled to the David; water cresting at the rim of Niagara; land blown away by the lips of some celestial being, leaving the pits and mesas of the Grand Canyon; words compiled into masterpieces of War and of Peace and of passion and sweetness, poetry and novels and bibles and such. Their newness is in our own eyes, our own ears and taste buds. Our nostrils flare with the crispness of an early autumn day, all musky and earthy, and we think it fresh and vibrant and new; but it is only new because it is so different from the days before. Autumn has re-compiled the ingredients: borrowing a waft of arctic air from Winter, a loamyness of earth from young Springtime, and the radiant sunlight diffusing through dying leaves from the heart of Summer. Before the side of Niagara fell away, when the earth shook and fell to darkness for three days, there was just a little stream quietly running along the mountainside. On that frightful and glorious day the earth groaned with sorrow at the suffering of her maker. She shivered and shook, leaving tall places crumbled in heaps on the ground, and raising up to the skies places that were low. The stream grew wide where the mountainside crumbled away, in a semi-circle, in the place we call Niagara. I often drive along I-15 and look to the east, imagining that day when these mountains rose up out of the belly of the earth, wondering if it was this time two thousand years ago, when blood spilled to the ground under a cross, half a world away, when the darkening sky heard the whisper of words fall from Holy lips: “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”
I wonder, delightfully, at the smile on our first Father’s face as he watches us create. I wonder if it is as I am when I watch Sophie and Timo draw on the playroom table, clean white paper scratched with the tips of colored wax in the shapes of princesses and super-heroes. I smile at their lack of perspective, at their skewed sense of size and balance, at their innocence and inexperience. Is it as charming for Him as it is for me, knowing he is watching me at this moment compiling letters onto words, and words into sentences? Something exists on this page that did not exist 25 minutes ago; something with my stamp on it, unique to me and freshly created. Does He smile at me thinking this, nodding His head with encouragement, knowing that the process is good for me even if the product is not so ideal? Somehow I suspect He does: smile, that is. He smiles and whispers, “keep going” and I move under his warm loving breath hoping that regardless of how beautifully or miserably I reassemble the matter, in the end He will approve.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

HIP


April 8, 2009 Hip
"You'll know...believe me, you'll know!" Dr. Pepper Murray, mom's orthopedic surgeon winked at her as she sat on the table in his office. She would eventually need a hip replacement, and she was just wondering when that might be. They don't have a definitive test for such things. The little internal bell rings at some un-premeditated moment, some morning when it was no longer possible to roll over in bed, or some afternoon when the walk up the stairs was just too much and half way up a little sprite on the shoulder squealed, "NOW! NOW!" The straw that breaks the camel's back. The point of no return.
One day Mom knew, and she called Dr. Pepper and set an appointment and in she went.
The morning of the surgery we fasted, we kids, and we kissed mom goodbye before they wheeled her into surgery. Because of Mom's propensity to bleed and to clot, they did not fully anesthetize her. They put her under just enough to be unaware of what was really happening, but not so much that she was out of it. When Pepper came out to tell us how it went, he said she did just fine, but said she tried to tell him how to do the surgery through he whole procedure. He also mentioned that her language was rather colorful. I imagine it was.
The surgery lasted a couple hours. Lib waited. George and I went up the street to Universal Floral Supply and purchased seven dozen roses. Seven rose varieties, a different strain and color for each of her children. We bought a large wicker basket and lined it, then trimmed and wired all seven dozen roses into that one large basket so that when she was fully awake she could see it right next to her bed. See it and smell it and feel her kids, even those who were hundreds of miles away, right there with her.
The reality was that when she got to her room she threw up, the medication having caused severe nausea, and the heaving, with a brand new hip, was not he most pleasant of human experiences. It took a while for her to return to herself. But when she did she loved the roses. And she loved the company of hospital staff and even other patients who had heard about the basket of roses and had to come see it. They opened with fragrant grace as she began to heal.
Soon Mom was moved to a rehab floor at Lakeview Hospital. They made her get up and walk. They forced her into the rec room to play old peoples' games and eat old peoples' food and smell old people smells and it did not make her happy! She hated it! "Get me out of here" she insisted, to us and to Pepper. As soon as you do this and that, whatever this and that was. So she determined to get it done. Sooner than anyone had ever imagine we brought her home, with the flowers, and she bit by bit incorporated that metal hip into our lives. We sometimes forget now, all these years later, that her hip can get cold in the winter.
Months later, country music artist Chris LeDoux called and asked to sing my song, Get Back On That Pony. He put the song on his album Under This Old Hat, as well as on his box set retrospective. He sang it with real heart, like he lived it and believed it. We sat in the Delta Center and listened to him introduce the song as his favorite song. I watched the ring of fans rising up from the stage sway back and forth with their Bic Lighters fluttering to the beat. His daughter named her horse Blaze. just the same as the horse in my tune. Sweet things for a songwriter. I opened my own music publishing company for his recording of that song. I had to come up with a company name that no one else was using, registered with ASCAP. Now a rainbow variety of CDs sit in a stack in my cupboard, with the names of various artists scrawled over the front covers. Some are good. Some not. All those recordings have a bit of my mom in them: Seven Roses Music. Thanks, Mom.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

CARRIAGE


April 7, 2009 carriage
To this girl, who has only known the hum of rubber on asphalt under her seat, the thought of a carriage is just so romantic. Even before color TV with afternoon re-runs of The Big Valley (Heath…what a cowboy dreamboat he was!) I was aware of the magic of carriages. Pioneer stories filled my childhood Sundays, our little legs dangling from the miniature pews in the Jr Sunday School Room. And we had picture books, and stories of my mother’s childhood, when they rode to school on a school wagon rather than a school bus in remote Blackfoot Idaho. When Libby and possibly Ann Marie and I were Merrie Miss age, between 10 and 12 years old, we had a sleep over with our teacher, Chris Millard. It was a very real-teenager thing to do and we loved it! We went to the 50 cent movie theatre where Gone with the Wind was playing as part of their Classics Series. We sat on the front row and I think we even had popcorn or licorice or something. When I was a kid we rarely went to the movies, and if we did we certainly did not walk the frivolous walk of popcorn and drinks! We felt so lucky just to get the movie. As an old lady now, in relative terms, I get almost giddy thinking of having popcorn at a movie. A large popcorn and a large drink, even. Sheesh, sometimes our childhood never leaves us. I get that same kind of giddy when it’s 2 am and I want some ice cream and I realize that if I so desired I could go open the freezer and have all I want! This thinking makes me scary excited. I wonder if I will ever outgrow it. Anyway, the carriages outside the plantations of the South, racing through the burning streets of Atlanta; it was all beauty and romance.
When Dave Connors held my hand across the altar and gave me his name to love and to nurture, I was wrapped in that romantic blanket for sure! We drove, the day after our wedding, to Michigan, arriving at Mackinac Bay just after the last ferry had left for the Island. My new husband found a speed boat pilot, negotiated a fare beyond our means, and we loaded our small newlywed suitcases into one seat and snuggled in the other as he shot us across the Straits of Mackinac toward Mackinac Island. As the mainland grew smaller, and the Island bigger, Dave pointed to the West Bluff, where a row of 8 or 9 large mansions kept watch over the waters, capped at the end of the row by the Grand Hotel, of the movie Somewhere in Time fame.
He counted aloud, one cottage at a time, until he reached his grandparents’.
“That one,” he said as he pointed, “that’s the cottage.” I squinted my eyes, shook my head, squinted again and then looked him in the eye.
“You’re kidding, right?” This was no cottage! This was a 13 bedroom mansion, with real honest to goodness Tiffany lamps and 36 matching press back chairs around the dining table. Servants quarters and a carriage house. Are you KIDDING me? This was the cottage his grandparents were evacuating themselves so we could use it for our honeymoon?
When the boat reached the dock we unloaded ourselves and our luggage. Just as we did a carriage rolled up, with two fine horses and a driver in a vest with a short tailed whip.
“Would you be Dave Connors?” the driver queried and he pulled the horses to attention.
“That would be me…us…”, he corrected himself.
The driver was Dave’s cousin’s boyfriend. He hefted our bags to the back of the carriage and Dave helped be up. Just like Prince Charming. We clip clopped all the way up past the backside of the Grand and came to a stop behind the cottage of any girl’s dreams. A large white shake edifice with a welcoming wrap around porch filled with rockers and benches. Dave’s cousin Pam had prepared the place and told us Grandma and Grandpa Roy had given our names to the mercantile before they left the island so anything we wanted we just needed to call and they would send it up. We nested in the turret, the George Washington Room, to be exact, and set about writing the first chapter of our never-ending story. Woke in the morning to the sound of waves lapping against the shore below us, the rhythm of dancing hooves on the streets. No motorized vehicles were allowed on the island, only horses, buggies and bicycles. During the day we golfed on the Island Course, and we strolled along the eternal boardwalk of the Grand Hotel at night, dipping in to watch Man of La Mancha one night. We walked along the beach afterwards and talked about dreams and love and God and earth and there has never been nor will there ever be a more perfect moment in time, the Mackinac breezes against our exposed calves, our arms interlaced, our feet leaving prints in the soft sand.
Two summers later our little Johnny rolled around that front porch in his walker while we sat with guitars and sang to Grandma Roy as she knitted. We met Christopher Reeves while he was there filming Somewhere in Time. We spoiled ourselves for any other fudge besides May’s Mackinac Island Fudge.
Dave’s cousin Pam married that carriage driver. I am still charmed by the prince who captured me and took me across the waters. I guess most good fairy tales do have carriages.
(note: the cottage is the pink roofed one in the picture at the top of this post. It was sold many years ago, when Grandma and Grandpa Roy found it too much to care for by themselves. They had another cottage on the shore of Lake Huron in Tawas, Michigan. Grandpa gave 5 beachfront lots to each of his 5 daughters. Dave's mom built her dream cottage, a sweet little true cottage type cottage, a few years before she was killed in a car accident in 1994. It is still the place we go to feel peace and to feel her.)

DOWNSTAIRS

April 6 2009 downstairs
Magic or mystery or both reside downstairs. Doesn't matter what the house is, or where it is. Could be the basement of an apartment complex. Could be the underbelly of a subway station, or the catacombs of Davis High School. It is the mixture of items important enough to save but not important enough to be remembered and used; forgotten treasures mixed with cobwebs and moldy bindings. Downstairs in the eastern US tastes different than downstairs in the western desert. Downstairs in the west is the smell of wood and cement and laundry and a three month supply of Dial soap on the back room shelves. Downstairs Tawas, Michigan is nautical, the damp air snuggling into your nose with the scent of wet canvas and mildewed wood, the hum of a dehumidifier as an overtone to all conversation. Downstairs at 373 Old Clairton Road in Pleasant Hills PA was varnished gum wood banisters sticky with August, cold cement and curling edges on the flooring. We had an old aluminum screen door that banged faithfully in the key of A when we ran out to the back yard. Our basement reeked of Marlboro cigarettes and Iron City Beer during baseball season, our father hunkering down in his chair, his feet sunken in the ottoman inches away from the black and white tube TV. Mother Nature helped us along in the cleansing process of that basement when the roots of the trees surrounding the old Tudor home dug into the sewer lines underneath and the liquid belched up into the basement. Inevitably she did this directly before we were to leave for our summer trip to Idaho. Or, if she was in an extra spiteful mood she regurgitated while we were gone, so when we returned exhausted from 38 straight hours in a station wagon we got to lug boxes of old school papers and Relief Society magazines out to the incinerator and leave it all piled there to dry enough so we could burn it on our designated burning day. So much of the masterpiece of my childhood went up in smoke, and is designated as speckles in the air of the universe. Every child needs a good basement somewhere, if not at their own home, then at their Aunt Becky's, or their grandparents, or at their mom's good friend's house. Somewhere where the noises of today are muffled by the floorboards and ceilings, where imagination is freed by anonymity, where the left over clothing of decades ago become costumes for a play, and the cans of lentil beans become dinner on a cardboard box stove in the far back room, where the toys of a toddler are stored and rediscovered in secret, calling up old feelings that disappeared unawares years before. And every basement needs to hold sacred some unfinished portion; somewhere that stays the same, year after year, or is only added to, not taken away.
Consider this: we are playing at this very moment, all of us, in the basement of heaven. Still part of the house, but the grown ups upstairs are so serious and, well...grown up. We are here in the downstairs, pretending to be grownups in the leftover shavings of former creations, free to create. Safe, but free.