Saturday, March 31, 2012

36. HOLY HANDS


I sat on the edge of our bed, my nightgown flowing over my gelatinized belly, the skin underneath my silken gown all soft and stretched and excessive after giving birth to my fourth child.  I sat with my new little girl in my arms, her tiny head tucked up under my chin, her round plum of a bottom cupped in one hand, her legs curled up in the familiar fetal position, my other hand patting her back.  I instinctively rocked back and forth, lulling her to sleep after her first Sabbath morning feeding.  Sunday in early June, all fresh and warm and luscious, the lilacs and peonies at the end of their bloom and the leaves of the scrub oaks that pepper our hillside finally burst with their own leafy emerald birth.  It was the one week of the year when the air outside was perfection, when the furnace was once and for all put to rest for the season and the windows were thrust open; that idyllic time when there is a slight breeze and the gauzy sheer curtains in the living room dance with newborn sunlight. Tomorrow we would need to close the windows and flip the thermostat over to A/C.  But today…this blessed Sabbath day…all was well.
I sat on the edge of our bed, rocking my child as I looked through our master bathroom door and into the large mirror over the long sink top.  There, like a portrait painted on my heart, stood the man of my dreams, all shower fresh and pressed, his dark hair cleanly combed and parted, his strong chin newly shaved, his crisp white shirt and deep red tie looking so beautiful against his olive skin; sun baked by early spring yard work and the building of a new deck out back. I watched the reflection of him as he lifted little Katie Did onto the counter top, her chubby 17 month old toes wiggling to find her balance.  
I watched, as I rocked, as I patted…watched him draw a brush through her hair.  Watched him pull her dress over her head, down past her white petticoat, watched him pull at the hem to make it even.  I rocked and patted and stretched my head over to catch the full scene as he placed his lips on her forehead and drew her head into him, then held it back, looking her over and declaring her a princess like her big sister, Sarah.  He turned her to see herself in the mirror.
“What a lovely little princess you are, my Katie Did.  Can you see your loveliness?”

And as she stared curiously in the mirror I watched his large man hands gently maneuvering to button the little buttons on his daughter’s Sunday dress. I watched his thick fingers fumble and twist, trying to find tiny buttonholes for tiny buttons.  I watched until the love fell in blurring pools from my eyes. 
Good strong manly hands, able and gentle and holy and kind.

He wraps them around his boy’s…hand upon hand…positioning them on the little metal bat for his first little league game. He clamps them on the covers of a book, his oldest girl’s head pressed against his chest as she turns the pages before them.  He washes and warms and lathers with baby lotion, rubbing the tiny bellies of his littlest ones after their baths.  He runs them through my hair, all wet and hot with labor, kissing my forehead and whispering trust.  He lays them on my head, over sacred oil.
Good, strong, holy, loving hands.

Tonight he stretched then out toward me as I sat on the couch at Gram’s house…reached out his still-strong hands, looking me straight in the eye. 

“You ready?” 

He positions his legs to handle the weight and pull me up out of a deep soft couch.  We clasp them in a sacred grip and he helps me rise.  We walk down the basement stairs and out the back door, not 50 yards from our own front door.  We walk, hand in hand, down the driveway, commenting on the clarity of the skies tonight; on the brilliance of the moon sliced in half; on the sweetness of the early spring trees who have finally given birth on this, the anniversary of my husband’s birth. Their scent is a sweet salute to him, I say.  And I squeeze his hand.
Good, strong, gentle, loving, manly hands, wrapped firmly in mine.
Blessed, sacred, holy hands.


Happy Birthday, my love.

Friday, March 30, 2012

35. THE POWER OF THANK YOU


Summer was a dilemma back there, back in the narrow passageways of southwestern Pennsylvania. I could never decide if I wanted a breeze or not. With all the growing green, humidity was the common denominator of every day, except for the blessed day or two when a thunderstorm swept through, followed by a good strong wind and a cloudless sky.  On those days the music from Jefferson Swim Club carried all the way up to Gill Hall Road.  But most often it was the kind of humid air that stuck to your skin and held everything still.  If there were a breeze to refresh the skin, then it brought the stench of US Steel's Clairton Works over to Pleasant Hills, the smell traveling low like a twin engine crop duster, dropping the stench of molten coal into the valleys and hollows of our hometown.

The summer after I turned 19 I came back home with a diamond on my left hand.  My first time back after my first time gone.  The throbbing of my heart made that space and time a blur in my memory now, but I do remember clearing off one of the twin beds in the Garden Apartments, a place I had never called home because Mom and Libby moved just after I left for BYU. But wherever Mom is becomes home, and I felt happy to be there, excited for the future with my husband-to-be, and sweetly torn between the girl I had been and the woman I was becoming. 

Dave clerked in a law firm, Thorpe Reed, I believe, that whole summer, except for the week or so we spent honeymooning on Mackinac Island, MI.  In late April I drove down to Clairton Steel Works and applied for a job in their college summer work program.  They called me back for an interview, and so I drove through the giant chain link gate, around the perpetual pile of coal and the guard station to the human resources office.  Dressed in my good grey pantsuit and heels, hair freshly washed and mascara applied.  Wearing those heels made my hips sway from side to side and I felt strangely feminine striding through this masculine place, though the femininity, as I recall it, was weirdly situated in the stench of steel making, like I was that niece of Hermann Munster who was the oddball because she was normal.

The stark environment of the office made me feel like I was waiting for the principal…off-white linoleum floors with glitter interspersed and waxy yellowed edges all around the perimeter. Blank off-white walls with brown paneling coming halfway up, a small metal strip edging the top, a photo of the batteries and smokestacks framed in fake-wood K-Mart fashion, hanging off center.  I sat in the chrome legged row of chairs until they called my name.  Back behind the long steel topped counter I was shown into a cubby hole of an office; one desk, two chairs, a balding man in a short-sleeved off-white shirt and a tie. There was no "white" in Clairton.
He hired me right off.  Few were chosen.  Many were called, but few were chosen and I felt decidedly fulfilled and mature as I shook his hand and he handed me papers to fill out.  I told him my brother had worked one summer at the mill.  He looked at my application and mumbled…”Hansen…Hansen…Hmmm…Did your brother work here not too long ago?”  I answered “Yes, maybe four years before.”  He stroked his chin as he stared at the paper. Looking up he caught my eye, and with a look of semi-recognition he announced, “You’re rich.”

 “I’m what?” I answered, in that dumb teenager back of the throat voice that belied my classy high heeled dress. “You’re rich,” he repeated, “With a mother like yours, you’re rich.” 

“You know my mother?”  My mind raced like one of those flowering fireworks that spins on the asphalt, bouncing haphazardly.  How in the world would my mother know this guy?

“I do not know your mother, but I know that you are lucky to have her.”  He went on to explain that in the 25 years that he had been hiring young people to work at the mill for the summer, only once had anyone ever called to thank him for a job.  “If your brother’s name is George Hansen, then that person was your mother.  She called to thank me for hiring her son, because he was earning money for a mission for your church.”  He looked me straight in the eye, lifted his hand and took mine to shake it, then placed his other hand over both in a fatherly sort of way and again repeated, “You’re rich.”


I worked on the batteries that summer.  2,500 degree ovens that turned coal into coke and turned fat into muscle so that my wedding dress looked rather smart.  My legs became strong, my determination tempered, my morals solidified.  I earned $8 an hour, far more than any other job I could have had that summer, plus time and a half on holidays and graveyard shifts that rolled around every third week.  More money than I had ever made in that chunk of time. 

The steel mill in Clairton is closed now.  Not even a whisper of a belch comes from her silent belly.  The money I earned is long spent and forgotten.  But my mother sleeps in her bed just up the road from me now, curled on her side, her white hair laying against her deep red pillowcase.  I can almost hear her breathing; slow, steady inhale and a small puff of an exhale. 

I am rich. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

34. JUNK MAIL

I am pleased to know, through the wonder of cyber info that came to me in my junk mail today, that I can find a real deal on a foreclosure home, and that there is a new organic coating for my cookware that will save the environment as well as take away unwanted calories in my food.  All I’ll have to do is contact Mr. Ibrahim Somebody and claim my $1.5 billion inheritance.  And if that money is slow in coming I can go ahead and contact the UN Undersecretary General for Internal Oversight and get my money, cuz it appears everyone else is out to get me.  I know I’m lucky.  She told me so…

Sinncerely, you are such a lucky person because as I just arrived in this country, I went through your fund ownership file to discovered that some top Nigerians and British Government Officials are interested in your fund and they are working in collaboration with officers from USA to frustrate you and thereafter diverting your fund into their personal bank account.


Whew, glad she caught that for me!

Even if the money doesn’t come through right away, I can be a very happy woman because some things in my life can apparently get bigger and more satisfying!  And some things can get smaller but more meaningful. And to make the pot even sweeter I can get all sorts of pharmaceuticals online for cheap or even FREE!  And I can go ahead and purchase those things with my new pre-approved VISA card, which is at this moment ready for delivery. 

I am most enthused about the possibility of finding a beautiful Russian wife. I had previously never even considered I might want a Russian wife!  But if she is willing to do certain things around here I might just click on the message and see what’s involved. I wonder if the wives they have lined up on their cyber shelf might be interested in this AARP membership once they have married themselves an American woman? Maybe she can interpret some of this other junk mail, one written in Russian-looking letters, and the other in Asian.  Maybe there are Asian Russian pretty women.  I have no doubt.

There are two fare wars, and two deals on Rolex watches that I would have to decide between.  It’s a tough call.  Hard to know.  So instead I lead the little arrow on my computer up to the top of this list of messages, one day’s worth, and double click on “empty”.  The messages instantly disappear, and a cute little sign pops up that reads:

 “You don’t have junk here (hooray!) - we’re working to keep it out of your inbox, too.”


Yay for filters!  Now I just need a filter at the garage door.  One that examines everything I bring in, sorting it before it ever plants itself in my perpetually growing “in - box”. I need to have something say, “Not so fast, lady!  That stuff is JUNK!  Do not let it past that door!”

And while we’re at it, I could use one in my head, too.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

33. NO WORDS








32. THURSDAY


Thursday.

The word makes me weary.  Thursday is Gummy Day at our house.  And it’s also the day I teach guitar to anywhere between 20 and 30 students.  I’m tired every Thursday night.  I come home from guitar around 8:30 pm, usually going straight to Gram and Libby’s place.  I get a bite to eat and we settle down to watch something on TV and I inevitably doze off, regardless of how compelling a show may be.  Lately, on Thursday nights, I must rouse myself and drag my bones to the computer and think of something to write about, since I made this Lent commitment. If you look at the time stamps on these pieces of random writing, you’ll see that I usually get finished between midnight and 2 am.  I guess Thursday is not the only day I end up tired. 

I’m not as chipper as I used to be.

Calvin comes to spend the day with me around 8:30 in the morning.  Right about when he is ready for a nap it’s time to go pick up Parker from Kindergarten and Ruby from pre-school.  When we get home we make some lunch and figure out how we will spend the next 4 hours together.  It’s not usually a problem, unless I want to get anything else done.  Then I’m in trouble.  So I need to really plan my guitar lessons on Wednesdays.  I really should…but I don’t always have Wednesdays free to do that.

Anyway, last Thursday, for some reason…(maybe it was that I had tended nearly every other day that week as well) I was super tired around 2 pm.  Sleepy tired.  The kind of tired that makes you want to turn on a Disney show and give the kids some popcorn; to warm a bottle of milk for Calvin and pray he got sleepy, then tell the kids you’re going to just lie down in your room for a minute.

So that’s what I thought I’d do, before I keeled over in the family room in front of them.

I turned on a show, then went to my room, which is right next to the family room.  I fluffed a few pillows on my bed and almost got my poor numb legs settled onto a soft spot when the kids burst into the room.

Ruby was crying, hurt in the deepest part of her little girl heart by something Parker had taken from her..  It was probably something that belonged to Parker.  Ruby has big crocodile tears when she cries.  They are so sad.

I remember being a young mom.  I remember the thinking I trained my brain to undertake in times like this.  I never tried to nap as a young mom because inevitably the kids woke me, and then I was super grumpy towards them and…well, it was not pretty.

I had a choice: I could try to settle the argument and get to resting or I could force myself to get up and shake off the need for a nap.

The spirit told me to not allow myself to get into that kind of conversation with myself.  No one was going to win that argument.

So I quickly flung my left leg up into the air and then hurled it to the floor, causing my bulk of body to rise in response.

“You know what this means?”  I grumbled.

Ruby backed away from me, that look of fear in her big wet eyes.  Parker joined her.

“This means….This means…It’s time for a Big Bed Pillow Toss!”

Timothy and Anna are familiar with the Big Bed Toss.  I’ve done it to them since they were little.  They spend nights here with us fairly often, and the Big Bed Toss is a wonderful morning activity, when mommy and daddy are still asleep or gone to work, and Gumpa is off working as well.  That’s when the light from the rising sun streams through the east facing windows.  Parker and Ruby never spend the night here, since they live five minutes away.

Park, the elder of the two and a little more brave, asked what the Big Bed Pillow Toss was.

Ruby just hid behind the bed.

“Well,” I said, reaching over the down comforter to the pile of down pillows at the head of our king sized bed…”The Big Bed Pillow Toss is a very fun game. First, you have to fluff all the soft pillows and put them in a pile in the middle of the bed, like this.”

Park helped me arrange the pillows in a glorious pile.

“Then,” I said as I slipped my hands under Parker’s arms, “You pick up a little person, and as soon as they give you a kiss you TOSS them onto the pile of pillows…like THIS!”

I threw my boy up in the air and down onto the airy mound of fluff.

He giggled heartily, catching his breath as he lifted himself out of the cloud.

“THAT wath FUN!”

Ruby peeked out from behind the bed skirt. 

I lifted Park again.  He automatically kissed my puckered lips and up he went, squealing with delight, then down into the pillows he landed, laughter bubbling out of him like the jet tub filled with bubble bath.

Ruby tossed her grump across the room and wiggled her little body between me and the side of the bed. 

“My turn!”

Parker fluffed the pillows while I lifted her up.  She kissed my lips, threw her arms out, and I tossed her, a little more gently than her brother.  She jumped straight up and screamed, “AGAIN!”

We fluffed and kissed and tossed until old Gummy’s arms got so tired.  That’s when I suggested we revert to the old standard.  Actually, I didn’t so much suggest it with words as I did with a blast on Parker’s head. A puffy soft blast of a fluffy down pillow.  He grabbed one and hit me back.  Rubes found one of her own and we went at it, laughing so hard our bellies hurt. We went at it until finally, exhausted, the three of us flopped over on the bed, their little chests rising and falling from the exertion.  

This, I told myself, is what every weary old woman needs when she wants a pick-me-up.  Not coffee.  Not a Diet Coke.  Not a bowl of ice cream, though that has been proven an effective afternoon energizer.  No, a tired and semi-grumpy old Gummy just needs a good king sized bed with a nice down comforter and a good pile of pillows. 

Oh, and a couple munchkins willing to kiss her.

I realize today is only Monday...well, actually Tuesday at this point.  Don't ask me why I'm writing about Thursday.I  guess some of the things that wear us out the most will be the most memorable for us one day.

Monday, March 26, 2012

31. BEING THERE


Annie stood at the kitchen sink, cleaning out baby Calvin’s bottle.

“Are you going to Summer’s grandma’s funeral?” I asked.  Summer was a sister-friend to Annie growing up.  They were room mates in college and Annie was a bridesmaid at Summer’s wedding. 

Annie turned toward me, setting the bottle on the counter top. She slumped her shoulders, her eyes welled up, and she struggled to find the words:

“Mom, do you know how much I hate funerals?  I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but they hurt so much. I get physically sick. And then it takes me a week to get over it. I just can’t stop thinking about it, and I cry all the time, and it’s just so hard for me.”

I know Annie pretty well.  I’ve known her longer than any human being has known her. I know her tender heart and her sensitivities.  She is as kind and loving as any person I have ever met, and she has a sixth sense that makes her pause and ask me if I’m OK when other people think I’m just fine.  Sometime’s peoples’ actions appear to be insensitive, when in reality they are the result of ultra-sensitivity. She feels sorrow as deeply as she feels joy.

“I know, Nanners,” I said, shifting over to the counter to give her a hug. “I know it’s so much harder for you than the average person.  So much harder than for me.  But I also know that there are times when we just plain need to be there.”

The spirit assigned to directing mothers whispered that this was enough, and I did not belabor it. I am no longer the boss of her.  She gets to make her own decisions.

I’ve lived a long time now.  And in that long time I have discovered that I am a believer  in being there.  Not that I always am, and not that I always can be.  But in general, there are some times and circumstances that have divine light around them and we miss so much when we don’t attend.  We miss the chance to receive, and we miss the chance to give.

Being there for a birthday lunch…that’s nice, and thoughtfully kind. That kind of being there is important, mostly because it sends a message, a little reminder that we are important to each other.

But there are other times when being there is a washing of feet; a 40 day fast; a pair of hands over the head of a lifeless child.  We minister with our presence.  In those moments when the rest of the world is stripped away, when the only thing holding us together is the grace of God; the mere presence of those we love is a type of consecrated oil on a wounded head. Whether it is the physical exchange of energy, or if it is angels speaking to angels, or if it’s only an easing of the mind to know we are not alone, I don’t know.  But there is definitely something about someone simply being with us in our deepest grief and our greatest joy that makes it more bearable and more complete.

I’ll not forget being up in Midway, Utah, a distant city and large canyon drive away from our home in Farmington.  We were weary with sorrow at the passing of our young nephew, Clayton, after a tragic motorcycle accident. I’ll not forget seeing our Farmington neighbors, Doug Asay, Connie and Dave Bailey, Cindy Gardner and Sue Denham walk in.  While they did not personally know Clayton or his parents, they knew we loved him, and they knew the depth of grief in his passing.  Even now it makes me weep.  My heart feels seared to theirs because of their presence.  It is no comment on others who could not be there, I’ve been in situations when I could not be there for people I love, and I pass no judgment.  I just know what it is like to feel like you’ve been ministered to, simply by someone showing up.

Yesterday morning I picked Dave up at the airport after a rather unusual trip he had taken. 

A couple months ago Dave received a letter from Yale University Track and Field Association, inviting him to attend their annual senior awards banquet at the Yale Club in NYC.  Dave participated in football and track at Yale, even lettering in track, but he hasn’t really done that much with the association since graduation, especially since we live thousands of miles away from New Haven, CT.  But this event was particularly enticing because Dave’s old friend and fellow Yalie, Peter Diamond, was being honored. 

I had first met Peter the night before Dave and I were married.  We had travelled to Washington DC to be married in the Mormon Temple there.  The night before we were wed, Dave’s parents provided a delightful evening at the Blair Mansion, where nearly 100 people shared a fabulous meal and warm conversation.  At some point in the evening a group of young men rose and came to the front, taking me by the arms and whisking me to a small room apart from the party. They blindfolded me and put me in the center of the darkened room, where David was also situated, then they gathered in a circle around us.  They began to hum, rather eerily I might add, then broke into song. The title and lyric to the song I cannot disclose.  It is old...very old...and particular to their fellowship in an old traditional society of brothers well known at Yale, which name I am also forbidden to disclose. Dave had been tapped with 14 other Juniors when he was at Yale, and his senior year there was spent with a diverse and talented group of “brothers” who shared much that is confidential to them.  These brothers, after singing to me, one by one rubbed their knuckles over the top of my head, much like my obnoxious brother did when he was teasing me, so that my pre-wedding night hair was all ratted by the time they were done.  I was actually somewhat frightened by all of it, until they removed my blindfold and I saw the genuine smiles and true kindness on their faces as they welcomed me to their circle. One by one they kissed me on the cheek and congratulated David.  Dave was the first of that group to be married.  They gave us a beautiful clock, an heirloom, which to this day chimes in David’s study in our home. 

Peter Diamond was in that circle.  We don’t see him, or any of the others from that group very often.  After college they all scattered to various positions or graduate studies, or Peace Corps service in far flung places.  David left for Italy the week after he graduated, serving for two years there as a missionary.  Peter took a position with ABC Sports as a researcher for the Innsbruck Olympics. Peter has been with ABC and now NBC as a producer for every Olympic game since then.  He has received 13 Emmy awards and is now the Senior Vice President of Programs at NBC Olympics.  He is responsible for programming NBC's coverage of the Olympic Games, and has overseen more Olympic programs than any broadcast network executive in television history. The Yale Track association is wise to have chosen to honor him.

“I think I’d really like to try to go to this,” Dave said, after reading the letter of invitation.  The problem was that he had a trial scheduled for Thursday, the banquet was on a Friday, and Saturday our granddaughter Sophie was being baptized. 

“Do you think I’m crazy to want to go?”  He waited for my response. 

Well, sort of…is what I thought. I mean, how was he going to do this?  We live 3000 miles away.  There just weren’t enough hours between all the things he wanted to attend, and too many miles as well.

But what I said was: “You do what your heart tells you to do.”

So he bought a ticket.

Thursday he had to be there for his trial.  He is, after all, the judge. So the ticket he purchased had him leaving Salt Lake City at 12:50 am Friday morning.  I dropped him off at the airport at midnight, wishing I had insisted on him taking a pillow in his bag.  He arrived in NYC Friday morning, got himself a bowl of Chinese Sesame Noodles at one of his old favorite restaurants in the city, walked around for a while, then showed up at the Yale Club, where he spent a portion of the afternoon nestled among shelves of wonderful old books in the library.  He had contacted some of their “brothers” who were in or near New York, and they joined together that evening in the dining hall of that brilliant old building, where tradition and honor and history hover around the beveled glass and thick soft leather and finely polished wood. Peter was genuinely astonished at their presence.  Stunned, actually, that David would travel from Utah.  I imagine it was a heart swelling kind of night for Dave, being there in that familiar place, with those familiar spirits from days gone by.


Dave sat next to Brian, another of the brothers, who had suffered a profound personal loss eight years ago.  His wife, a warm and well respected business woman and the mother of their two young sons, had died in a tragic fire in a Virginia Inn, where she was staying for a recruiting trip for her law firm. I cannot imagine the sorrow.  Truly.  David had travelled back east for the memorial service.

Dave hadn’t seen Brian since that time.  They were able to share meaningful conversation Friday night; clapping appropriately for Peter, and cheering for the track seniors.  As the evening drew to a close, Brian leaned over to Dave and looked him in the eye.  Quoting some unknown philosopher, he said these words:

 “There are friends.  And there are friends who show up.”

I know Dave well enough to imagine the man tears welling in his eyes.  I imagine them in Brian's eyes as well.

Peter invited Dave to stay in his place in Manhattan before his return flight, but Dave would have had to leave for the airport at 4 am, so he thanked him and said it was no problem to just wait a while at the airport. 
“Thanks for being here, Dave.  I really cannot believe you came all this way. I’ll never forget it.”

Dave spent the night trying to find a comfortable position in the stiff metal seats at JFK airport. His flight left New York early Saturday morning.  I picked him up just in time for him to shower and change into his suit for Sophie’s baptism early Saturday afternoon.  He had not laid down since Wednesday night.

Sometimes the thing that matters most is that you just show up.

Three weeks ago I loaded my guitar into my car, heading out to sing at Summer’s grandma’s funeral.  When the garage door opened there stood Annie, her little Calvin dressed in his Sunday best.  We drove together, quietly, up the road…the long path of love…that led to the place where we could minister. 

No words necessary. 
We just needed to show up.
  

True friendship isn't about being there when it's convenient;

it's about being there when it's not.

Anon.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

30. BEGINNINGS


What a beautiful day this was; a Saturday in early spring, when the crocuses and daffodils have peeked out from under their winter veils and the sunshine sits comfortably on the skin, cooled to the perfect temperature by air as fresh as a newborn baby.  This day was about beginnings. 

We stood at the side of a deep pool of water and bowed our heads as our firstborn dipped his firstborn into the waters of baptism.  Sophie was radiant in her pretty white dress, her eyes all asparkle with the wonder of this first step into a grown up world.  She was full of reverence and delight, a rare balance that is so refreshing to us old stuffy people. Tomorrow her dad will stand at the pulpit, where he is a member of the bishopric, and introduce her and her good friend Alivia as the newest members of their ward. I sense that she knows that, while she is the same girl she was last Sunday, she is also somehow changed.  Tears flowed freely on this day; this kind of day when time converges into one whole and the past meets the future and we see all of it clearly through the lens of love.

I drove over to Sophie’s house last night, calling her on the way.

“Hi Soph.  You still up?”

“Yup”, she responded, “The little kids are in bed but I get to stay up and help get ready for my baptism party tomorrow.”

I smiled at the conversation, thinking how charming it was to hear an eight year old talk about the little kids as if they were another category of person.

I took her two little gifts: a new camera to record the people who love her on this special day, and a pair of earrings. 

“These are special earrings, Sophie.  They belonged to your Great Grandma Connors.  Since you never got to meet her, I thought you should have these for your baptism tomorrow.  She would have loved you, and you would have loved her.”

The earrings were small gold clusters with a tiny pearl in the middle, perfect with her pretty white dress.  I had worn them to John and Ashley’s wedding years before, willing Helen to be there with us on that day as well. I thought of those earrings getting a new start on this day of Sophie’s new life. Sophie reminded me that my membership in our church is a great blessing.   



After the baptism and gathering at John and Ashley’s house, my sisters and I drove over to our neighbor Victoria’s for another celebration.  Two days ago Victoria stood with a couple hundred fellow immigrants and raised her arm to the square, taking an oath of citizenship as an American.  She was so excited, she threw a party.  We sat there in a little circle of folding chairs in her family room and reviewed her test for American citizenship. We all decided if we had not been born American citizens we sure wouldn’t be able to call ourselves Americans, because, except for Libby, we all failed the test. Victoria reminded us that what feels old and common to us is fabulously new to her and cause for celebration.

Then tonight we drove down to Salt Lake City for a 50th wedding anniversary celebration for Steve and Pat Beus.  Steve was bishop of Pittsburgh Second Ward when we were growing up, and when Dave and I returned from living in New York, he was our Stake President.  He and Pat were pivotal in our lives.  Perhaps another day I will dig into the deep crevices of my heart and tell more about that.  But on this night we who love them came together to celebrate their union, begun half a century ago.  They are preparing to leave soon for a new beginning.  They will serve as missionaries in Japan for a year and a half.  Steve and Pat reminded me that life is a series of new beginnings.

Tomorrow I will rise as usual. I will cleanse my skin and dress myself in reverent clothing.  I will join my husband and sisters and friends and neighbors. We will sing praise, and bow our heads, and then, in the quiet of the chapel, we will each raise our hands, one by one, by our own choice, and allow ourselves to be born again through the holy sacrament of our Lord. 

Renewed, by His grace, and blessedly refreshed.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

29. GARBAGE CAKE


When an adolescent child is free of abuse and addiction they can be wonderful to behold.  Aside from their typical hormonally driven emotional dips and spurts , they are full of newness.  John at 13, discovered Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.  He found Wordsworth and Kerouac.  He developed calluses on his fingertips from playing guitar.  And he decided he wanted to learn to cook.  He became rather masterful at it, actually.  He made crepes regularly, and perfected saute’ing mushrooms and caramelizing onions.  He pulled out my cookbook and tried his hand at whatever his taste buds led him to.  We did not suffer through his experiments, because he understood the value of a recipe. 

One evening Dave and I went out on a date and John was left in charge of the kids.  As we were leaving, John and his buddy Jason were mixing a chocolate cake.  You’ll not find cake mixes in our pantry, nor commercially prepared dinners in our freezer.  You will find, however, good quality cocoa and flour, natural sugar and vanilla.   John was using my best chocolate cake recipe, the one that calls for real butter and 4 eggs and buttermilk and 24% cocoa from France, which I had purchased in a fifty pound bag. I figured cocoa is the perfect food storage item. I divided the bag and sealed it 5 pounds at a time in metal cans at the church cannery. Everyone else has wheat in their food storage, but in a crisis they will want chocolate! I presume the average American will be more than willing to trade a good portion of flour and sugar for a few cups of cocoa.  Purchasing 50 lbs. of good European cocoa was an investment, I decided, and I have never regretted the purchase.  I am currently on my second 50 pound bag.

John lifted the beaters from the mixing bowl. I dipped my finger in the creamy batter and licked it, telling myself that this was going to be the perfect ending to our date.

Later that evening Dave and I hurried home to top things off with a piece of that made from scratch chocolate cake.  When we walked in we could smell the trailings of chocolate, but there was no cake to be found.  The boys were in the back yard playing ball. They hadn’t seriously eaten that whole cake, had they?

 I walked out onto the deck and yelled:

“Hey, where’s the chocolate cake you guys?”

John was back by the stream and couldn’t hear me. Jason drew the ball out of his mitt, tossed it out to John, and called back,

“It burnt. We were playing ball and forgot about it, so it burnt.”

“Oh.”  I said, really disappointed.  That poor delicious batter… robbed of its rightful measure of fulfillment.

“So what did you do with it?” I yelled back out to him.

“We threw it away.”

I turned back to the door, opened the screen, and entered the kitchen to tell Dave we were out of luck.  That’s when I saw Dave leaning over the open garbage container strategically situated next to the fridge.  An empty cereal box had been smashed down on top of the garbage, and on top of that box, upside down, was the rejected cake. Dave looked up at me, his back bent over the garbage, his mouth full of chocolate cake…

“Doethn’t tathte burnt to me,” he mumbled, the cake muffling his words.

I, being the supportive wife, scurried over to the garbage and joined him.

Since then we have lovingly called this yummy cake Garbage Cake.  People who don’t know the story think it has some weird combination of ingredients tossed together like garbage.  Not so.  It is a well crafted recipe that likes to be followed with relative exactness.

And now, lucky you, you can make it yourself!

CONNORS’ GARBAGE CAKE

 1 c. cocoa (bitter, not the drinking kind!)
1 c. boiling water
1 c. buttermilk or sour milk (milk plus 2T vinegar)

2 ¾ c. flour
2 t. soda
½ t. salt
½ t. bkg. Pdr.


1 c. butter
2 ½ c. sugar
4 eggs
1 ½ vanilla

Combine cocoa and hot water, add buttermilk. Set aside.
Beat butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla about 5 minutes.
Add dry mixture, alternating with cocoa-milk mixture.
Bake 350 degrees for 35 minutes in rectangular pan, or 25-30 minutes in round pans.
Frost with Buttercream Frosting if you want.
Yum.

BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whipping cream or milk

Directions
In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.
Add vanilla and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency



Friday, March 23, 2012

28. CHANGE


Time softly sifting like sand in an hourglass is a lie.  It shifts in spurts, thrusting us forward unexpectedly, whether we’re prepared or not. I think about the changes that have come in my lifetime, mostly technological, and just thinking about it makes me motion sick. 


 It used to be we had to find a pay phone in order to call home and check on the kids when we were out on a date.  Then Dave, because of his work, got one of those first generation cell phones.  It looked pretty much like a masculinized princess phone, attached to a box inside the car with a typical telephone coiled cord.  A funny little antenna was installed on top of Dave’s puny old Toyota.  A friend once told us how incongruous that looked…the latest hip product being installed on an old subcompact car.  Antenna’s for cellular telephones were usually exclusive to shiny little sports cars or Bentleys.  For Dave it was purely functional. It cost dollars per minute to use it, so he only used it for work and we still looked for pay phones to check in with the babysitter when we were out. Wireless cell phones didn’t become available to the average cost conscious American until our kids were almost grown, less than 10 years ago.  I can only remember one time when there was an issue with our kids and cell phones (maybe this is where forgetfulness is a blessing).  Annie was falling in love with that cute boy who lived in Centerville and they apparently had many a late-night conversation via texting, because we received a $300 texting bill one month.  I guess we had a limited text plan at that point.  At 10 cents a text it adds up pretty quickly.  She ended up marrying that boy years later. 
This little creature has come of that union, and .he is priceless…so in the grand scheme of things it was a pretty cheap bill.


Our first TV was a massive piece of glass and metal, the curved eye blinking on slowly as the tube inside warmed to the electrical current behind it.  The pictures were black and white, with fluttery shades of gray.  I well remember our first color TV.  It had a wire attached that led to magical brick-like device they called a remote control.  You didn’t even have to get off the couch to change the channel. Now, when we’re watching a show and our cell phone rings, we pick up our wireless remote and pause the show.




I remember also the first time I felt air conditioning.  I still get a mini-thrill when I walk into our house and feel cool air, the clean aroma of my hickory floors brushing against my nostrils, my skin whispering “Thank You, Lord!” on hot summer days.  Our friends the Nelsons had air conditioning in their home when I was a kid back in Pittsburgh.  How we loved driving out to the Nelsons in our old  air-conditionless station wagon, our heads leaning as close as possible to the open windows in the car, using the motion as an evaporative cooler against our skin. At the Nelson’s nice new house we got to play with good friends in that amazing non-sticky, sweet smelling conditioned air! On the hottest most humid summer days we stayed till the sun went down, finally retreating to our old tutor house, opening every window and door late at night, begging the cooler night air to come in and stay a while.


One summer, when I was tiptoeing on the balance beam of adolescence, we went to Idaho for vacation.  Dad took off with the car and we were left stranded in Idaho.  School was starting that week, 2500 miles away, and we had no way to get home.  Through a miraculous gift of a loan from a banker who knew the value of her father’s name, mom was able to secure a loan for a brand spankin’ new car.  A Charger. With air conditioning!  And, unbelievable as it was to us…an eight track tape player to boot!  We pooled our pennies and bought a tape of Shirley Bassey in a truck stop bargain bin.  I remember sitting in the back seat  of that car, the sun sparkling through the read window, the smell of new leather and the mellow voice of Shirley Bassey in stereo, a small satin-trimmed blanket from Aunt Mae tucked under my chin as we crossed the heart of America in our air conditioned car.  It was the most empowered I had ever felt, and looking back on it, this was probably the beginning of our independence as women in a less than ideal family situation.

Now days I carry my music around with me. On my phone. With no cord.  I download the songs I want through the little sliver of a computer that sits on the top of my desk.  When I was little my sister Sue was a computer programmer in Pittsburgh.  She punched little chads in computer cards that fed information to a massively large machine that took a huge building to house.  My little laptop holds multiple times the storage that machine did.  It houses all my music, all my stories, all my pictures and my addresses.
 
There is nothing as constant as change.
 
I think of my mother, who, as a young girl, warmed her shoes by the old cook stove, slipped them onto her feet and ran out the door on chilly winter mornings, running down to the intersection of the dirt roads near her house, and waited for the school wagon to come pick her up. And I’m not talkin’ a station wagon.  I’m talkin’ a horse and harness, a buckboard and a slatted wagon bed with benches along the sides. I watch our neighborhood children disembark from the school bus outside my kitchen window and wonder what amazing changes they may be writing about in 40 years.

 
Seriously, I'm really not that old.  It's just that the world is spinning so fast! So much change, if you let it, can really throw you off kilter.  That’s when it’s best to simply look up.  Up…where, if the night is clear and the moon is dark, you can see those old stars just a' twinkling away:  Unchanged and eternal.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

27. ODD


Confessions of an Organizationally Challenged Troubadour
by Cori Connors

(Disclaimer 1: If you can see the countertop in your kitchen, or your floors have been vacuumed once a week the last year or so, or you can park your car in the garage and open the doors without hitting something, YOU DO NOT NEED TO READ THIS! Everyone else…welcome to my world!

Disclaimer 2: I don’t always follow my own rules.  But I know they work for me.)

Ask me to organize words and music, and I’ll work on it for hours.  Assign me to organize people or events and I’m willing and able.  But ask me to organize my house and you’ll get a blank stare. 

It never was natural to me, just ask my mom. When Dave requested my hand in marriage (mind you I was 18 years old) my mom said “Sure.” (He was Dave Connors, after all!) “But you’re going to have to hire a housekeeper.”  I was so offended. 

She knew then what I know now.  Mom’s are that way.  Now, decades later, if my kids come into the house and the kitchen is cleaned up and the floor mopped they will inevitably ask, “Are we having company?”


I’ve always felt a little odd, especially when I compare myself to my amazing neighbors.  And I guess I would be right, I do suffer from ODD: as in Organizationally Disabled Disorder.

Since I have survived over half a century, in spite of my disorder disorder, I have figured out a few things which, when I remember to remember them, considerably enable me to function better. Go ahead, take a gander.  If you are challenged, as I am, you might identify.  And if you are like many of my friends who also have beautiful yards and clean fridges, at least you’ll get a glimpse of how your world might be if the good Lord had not gifted you with your natural sense for order. 

Here, (in no particular order), are my personal rules for organizational survival for ODD balls:

People before things: Rule number one. Take care of your people before your things. As a young mother I had to make this little rule for myself.  It came after moving into an affluent neighborhood, where everything appeared pretty Oz-like to me.  I got sucked into the vacuum of comparing myself with others.  I ended up not liking myself, in much the same way as I don’t like myself when I’m on a diet.  When I’m dieting all I can think about is food.  When I was trying to make my palace sparkle that’s all I could think about as well.  I don’t recall what circumstance led to the creation of this personal rule for me, but I do remember which house I lived in and about how old I was.  It was decades ago. I think I was PTA president at the time. Now, if I am in the middle of loading the dishwasher or folding laundry and someone needs me, or I sense someone needs my help, I pause for a minute, say a little prayer for confirmation, and inevitably leave my task.  I can hear a little voice in my head saying “It’ll still be here when you get back”. I literally say to myself, regularly…people before things.

Rule of 3 / Rule of 10/ Rule of 1:

Rule of 3: If, as I am headed to the shower, I notice that stray sock on the bathroom floor, I can walk past it once.  I can even let it slide the second time.  But if I make note of it three times, then it’s time to pick it up.  I call it the Rule of 3.  My mom used to say, “Do what you need to do to get it out of your brain!” If something takes brain space that often, then I suppose it’s the Holy Spirit of Order nudging me to take care of it. I am, after all, a steward over all this stuff. We all need to be able to cut ourselves some slack, and for those of us who literally suffer from ADD, we need to be able to stay focused on our tasks, which means we have to step over socks sometimes.  But if something “speaks to me” three times, I take that as a signal to address it and get it taken care of.

 Rule of 10: When faced with something like the mountain of items lining the periphery of certain rooms (which if I squint my eyes sort of looks like the Wasatch Mountain Range), or the pile of papers on the counter, try the Rule of Ten.  Take care of ten items.  That’s it.  You don’t have to move the whole mountain, just a nice little piece of it.

Rule of 1 - Everything you do is something done: If I can’t even bring myself to take care of 10 items, I resort to this rule.  I repeat this mantra: Everything you do is something done.  Physically touch one thing, and don’t put it down until it is where it belongs. It’s motion in the right direction.

Emotional Time vs. Real Time:  We ODD people swing back and forth between being perfectly fine with the way we live and beating ourselves to an emotional pulp! I finally realized that, though I may have the real time to accomplish something, my emotional time may be spent.  I especially notice that we judge each other according to our real time situation, yet we have no idea what kind of savings are left in the emotional time bank. My friend may have a few hours in the day where she is not required to do any particular task.  And yet she has been dealing with non-stop company, an exceptionally challenging family matter, financial worries, and maybe even a good dose of PMS. Her emotional time is totally spent.  So cut her some slack…and she should cut herself some slack.  She may have hours on the clock, but her emotional time is gone, and she will need to have a chance to replenish by allowing herself to be still. 

Find your groove: If my emotional time and my real time are not at odds, and I have a little pocketful of each, then I start talkin’!  I have this conversation with myself about how great it’s going to feel to have a little order in my space, and how much I’m going to like myself cuz I did something I’m not that good at.  So I gear up: get my work clothes on and my shoes laced up.  Lift the shades on the windows, maybe even open them for some fresh air.  I force my brain to make a semi-plan about where I’m going to start (there are so many options in an ODD house). I gather my tools, and set the music! For me it’s Carole King’s Tapestry album.  Like I said, I’ve lived half a century already.  Carole King spoke to me in a big way when I was 14 years old.  She made me feel empowered from those first low bass notes she pounded out on the piano…followed by the syncopated flow of music and words…”I feel the earth…move…under my feet….”  The music makes me want to move.  It sets the pace for me, energizes me, and pretty soon I am accomplishing the impossible to the groove of Natural Woman.  Find your own empowering music and get in the groove.
For those of us with focus problems, we need to sieze the moment when we are in the groove and move forward without distraction. People who don't suffer from attention deficit don't understand how hard it is to keep yourself focused. So if your ODD friend has trouble sticking to her task, don't disturb her by asking her do something even small and menial. Once the focus is gone its really hard to get back.

“What would Helen do?”: When my mother-in-law, Helen, was killed suddenly in a car accident, we all had to shift the gears of our hearts in order to function.  Dave’s family all lived back east, and we were thousands of miles away in the west.  One day Dave’s little sister, Chelle called me from the grocery store in Pittsburgh. She was now the one who handled the shopping and cooking, in spite of being young and having never done it before.  “Cor, how do you know which bananas are good?”  If you’ve never had to purchase bananas you are full of all sorts of self doubt.  I made logical suggestions, but it’s kind of hard to walk someone through over the phone.  Finally I said, “Pretend you’re Mom.  Which ones would she pick?”

When I am feeling wholly incapable of organizing my personal space, I turn my head to the people I know and love who are good at it, and I pretend to be them.  Sorting through the clothes that are smashed together on the rack in my closet, I pretend to be my daughter-in-law, who has no problem letting go of things.  Organizing my jewelry, I imagine I’m my sister and hear her voice whisper, “Now remember not to mix the gold with the silver”. ODD people are often good at pretending, being creative by nature.  So embrace that gift and pretend to be someone organized once in a while.

The measure of its creation: I ask myself, when trying to decide if something is destined for the DI, “Has this item filled the measure of its creation for me?”  If I’ve benefitted from having it, and I don’t really need it any more, then it has served its purpose and can now be released.  I thank it for its service, give it a little kiss or a hug, and let it move on.

If you can get it at DI; give it to DI: I think I need to remember this more often. If my basement is chock full of stuff that I think I (or someone else) might need one day, then maybe it’s time to rethink what my space is worth.  If there is something that is regularly available at DI, and I need it only once in a blue moon, then I should give my copy of that item to DI and go buy another one from DI when I need it.  (Chances are, I won’t need it.)

All Things are Spiritual: D&C 29:34…Wherefore, verily I say unto you that all things to me are spiritual.

I take this scripture as a comfort. All my struggles, not just the ones that involve reading scripture and attending the temple, are important to Him.  He wants to help me.  My success is His success.  So it is by all means appropriate for me to ask Him to help me know how to clean and organize my house.  It is good to give this aspect of my life emotional weight in my pondering and prayer.  When I quit beating myself up about it, and I pause and ask for His help, ideas come into my head that lead me forward with purpose. It is a healthy exercise to ask the Lord to show us our weaknesses.  He will show us in a much more gentle way than the world will show us.  Then, as promised, I think He can and will make our weaknesses our strengths. First, though, it takes a willingness to focus, to ask, to listen, and to act.  And, as in all of life, repetition is essential. I am working on repeating this prayer more often.

For Valentines Day, instead of going out and getting my true love a token of my affection, I evidenced my love by cleaning and organizing his shelves in our bedroom closet. He loved it!  And so did I, when I was done.  It sure took a lot of self talk, and repeated prayers to remain focused. But, by golly, I did it! Now I just need to remember to repeat my success J

One last note.  Make friends with this website: www.flylady.net.  Read her article on CHAOS (Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome).  Uh Huh…she knows!