Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Through the Looking Glass

We're just about to step through the glass and find ourselves in an entirely different hemisphere.

To be exact. On Tuesday, June 2nd, we will fly out to Los Angeles, CA. There we hope not to be eaten by any of Trevor's lego creations, watch Isabella swan dive, try to keep pace with Natasha and sword fight with Daniel--the cousins. On Friday afternoon we hope to leave LA with all of our baggage on an Air Tahiti flight headed to the island of Tahiti in French Polynesia.

We will be flying over a lot of ocean. Like ten hours or so. I'm not sure. I'm just showing up. Eric has my passport and our tickets. Oh and I have to try to pack us. Under 50 pounds per piece. I'm more worried about that than all the hours over the ocean. Well, I'm also really hoping that we don't end up on some time shifting island LOST or somewhere with coconuts for friends.

I've already started packing. Two months ago. Nine months ago. I've lost track. That's a lie. I know exactly how long we've been trying to move overseas. It's a lot of time to think about things. And make lists and try to predict things I have no way of predicting. There's a lot I don't know. Do the toilets swirl a different direction? I don't know. How hot is hot and for how much of the time? I don't know. I just don't know. I don't even know French or Tahitian so it will be hard for a little while to ask about what I don't know.

So I'm facing my fears with zip lock baggies. Baggies for everything. I've even made clothing sets for the boys and put them in baggies. For the trip. Underwear included. One zip lock bag. Clothing for three little boys. Pretty foolproof. Even a molecular scientist should be able to dress three boys in 10 minutes or less with one zip lock bag. Say, maybe I'll write a paper on the results of my own experiment.

And well, if we end up on the wrong island, maybe my zip lock bags will drift ashore and save my life! Or the universe will revolt against so much use of environmentally unfriendly plastic.

Oh dear. I think I just saw that rabbit again.

Have You Hugged Your Computer Today?

"We're so glad when Daddy comes "home" to stay." Today. Soon. Not soon enough. Hurray.

Addendum. Eric arrives sometime after dark, after we've all gone to bed. Isaac wakes up with bad dream. I have bad sore throat, so I'm trying to go get something from the kitchen to make it better. Isaac crying.
Me. "Look it's Daddy! Stay with Daddy. He'll take care of you."
Isaac sobbing. "Nooooo....Mama....I scared."
Me. "Daddy will hold you."
Isaac. "I don't like him. Mama..........."

Does reality just not live up to cyberdad?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Spring Extended. Take Note.

In some ways we have experienced time standing still during these weeks on my parents farm. I feel as if I touched the lamp post and ended up in my own Narnia world.

In this place of timelessness away from thudding tick tock throb of that striving demands, I see my boys in the echoes of my own childhood--climbing my trees, rolling down my hills, dancing, pretending grown-up things and embedded in the carefree place of perfectly happy, playful little people.

The season has breathed it's fresh scent into us. We glory in each new bud.

I noticed for the first time or remembered again that before even Maple trees flow into leaf, they too have dainty flowers that gently float away so that in mere days the helicopter fruits can take flight. Because the spring has been on the cool side, we have enjoyed a world with stop action. Our verdant spring has been underlined and crowned bold.
With our noses to the ground, we gawked at the field violets and felt the silkiness of the grass flowers. We caked our shoes in mud to hollow out housing for the roots of a hundred little saplings. At night Isaac doesn't want to sleep until he can hear the frogs singing down on the pond. And they do sing. The baby birds that Pampa and Benjamin found in the barn will soon join them adding the counterpoint of chirping during the day.

Now a new calf has been born, the soybeans will sprout soon and even the Rhododendrons are blooming which is significant because I never expected to be here long enough to see them. But I am. While sitting in the waiting room of life before the door opens to that next thing can pull at your patience, this has been a haven, a respite and full of simple joys. I think that slowly the cold earth of my heart made dormant with my little sorrows and disappointments and frustrations with my own inadequacies and failures despite my labors and prayers is warming in the sunshine of this temporary time when all around me are God's testimonials. I see, smell, hear, feel living.

The grass flowers are begging me to take off my shoes and dance in this world--my own little dance.

If there is a place for every such flowering thing, then the space for me must need me as well.

Hi-Neighbor Day

“Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

I know some really great women. I grew up in a beautiful place surrounded in love and community in my church. When I was asked to speak in my church in Georgia on Mother's Day two years ago, the dedicated women of my childhood became part of my message.

It's been a pleasure to be with them again while I've been staying with my parents. I thought maybe I should spread the word that they always travel with me in my affection and who I've become.

From a Mother's Day Talk that I gave in 2006, Snellville, GA.

My grandmother used to say she wasn’t worth but a nickel. I couldn’t ever grasp that. This from a woman in her nineties who began a 26 year teaching career in the same one room school that William McKinley had taught in, who raised two daughters and who knows how many chickens, lambs and pigs, was known to have wielded her hoe against a blacksnake or two—which if you know me counts millions with me, but what mattered most in my childhood world, always gave big hugs and had a supply of ginger cookies or cherry filled sugar cookies waiting in her cupboard whenever we would arrive to visit—just like magic they were always there. That and so much more all amounted to a lot of nickels in my book.

But I understand my grandmother better now when at times my own bank seems barren or when I hear this sentiment echoed in other despairing voices. So today, I feel inspired to testify to you how much we all add up when we count in the manner of our Heavenly Father. I hope the spirit may guide my words and lift your hearts.

The proclamation of the family reminds us that because we are the sons and daughters of heavenly parents, we are divine—of infinite worth—and have a divine destiny. Spencer W. Kimball taught that both women and men “were given certain assignments” in the pre-earth life and that “while we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to.” To this Sister Hinckley added, “Therefore, it would seem important that our greatest quest is to live worthy to know what the Lords’ will is regarding us—what we are meant to do.”

In her talk, “Is this what I was born to do?” Sister Hinckley reminds us of the story of Esther in the Old Testament as an example of someone who did what she was meant to do. “It is a Cinderella story, but it has far more substance than a simple fairy tale.” Once upon a time, many years ago, a king who reigned over India and Ethiopia demanded that all of the provinces be searched for the fairest maidens so that from among them he could choose a new queen. One of these women was a lovely Jewish woman named Esther who had been raised by her uncle Mordecai. For one year, the young women were trained and groomed and then presented to the king. When it was Esther’s turn to be presented, the king loved her above all the women he had seen. The royal crown was set upon her head and she was made queen. Esther was then put to a test. The king’s chief advisor hated the Jews and formed a plot to have them all put to death. Mordecai asked Esther to do a difficult thing—to risk death by entering the presence of the king without permission in order to intercede on behalf of her people. Mordecai encouraged her to do what only she could do, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” This was a defining moment for her—an opportunity to show that she knew her worth. (Esther 4:14) To garner courage, Esther asked all the Jews in the land to fast for three days and to pray for her. She also rallied the women about her to do the same. “I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). She does not perish however and neither do her people. The story ends quite happily for most—the chief advisor being the exception in this case.

Esther’s story inspires me as a potent reminder of the worth of each individual. She responded at the right time in order to save her people. She acted courageously and fulfilled her destiny. How much we are able to accomplish when we believe in our divine worth, align ourselves with God’s purposes and rally others to help us accomplish our mission. The essence of Esther is in all of us—each of us with our own unique offerings for all our various kingdoms engaged in doing what only we can do.
Appropriately, our modern Mother’s Day is rooted in Esther’s kind of activism—seeking to do good for others. Ann Jarvis felt she could save a people as well: from poverty, misunderstanding and poor health. After the Civil War, she yearned to help heal the wounds of the war that had pitted the people in her state of Virginia neighbor against neighbor. She worked to reconcile them. She also organized “Women’s Work Days” in order to raise awareness of social issues and alleviate the burden of the poor. Inspired by the work of Mrs. Jarvis, Julia Ward Howe, who you will remember penned the stirring words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, organized a national mother’s days set aside to promote peace. She felt that of all people, mother's understood the tragedy of the loss of life best. After Ann Jarvis died, her daughter stepped forward to raise her own banner of good causes to honor her mother and all like her. She remembered her mother saying, "I hope that someone, sometime will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it." On the anniversary of her mother's death around the second week in May, she organized the first celebration at her church and saw to it that each woman received a white carnation--each year more cities and states participated. She wrote countless letters to congressmen and businessmen in order to gain a national day of memorial for all women. Woodrow Wilson signed it into law in 1914. These women demonstrated not only a belief no in their own worth but in the worth of all women. I also find it noteworthy that in addition to marking what good women had accomplished in the past; these women also saw Mother’s Day as a day for women to act together to change the future.

Our very own Relief Society gives us many examples of the good that can be accomplished when many Esther’s band together to fulfill their destinies and help others. During this same time period, The Relief Society engaged in a number of bold and innovative economic activities spurred by the Church's movement for economic self-sufficiency. Ward societies initiated cooperative enterprises for making and marketing homemade goods, raised silk, established a grain storage program with local granaries, and helped finance the medical training of midwives and female doctors. With the support of ward units, the central board established the Deseret hospital (1882-1895). Assuming a new political role, the Relief Society sponsored a series of "indignation meetings" to voice women's opposition to proposed antipolygamy legislation. After Utah women were enfranchised in 1870, the Relief Society encouraged women to vote. Then they actively campaigned for woman suffrage after they were disfranchised by the federal government in 1887. (Encyclopedia of Mormonism)

After WWI, The Relief Society sold 205,518 bushels of stored wheat to the US government. In the 1920s, concerned about high rates of maternal and infant mortality the RS used the interest from this wheat fund to sponsor hundreds of health clinics for expectant mothers, babies and preschool children. That's a fair amount of nickels for good causes! I'm proud to be a part of this organization. We’re not the kind of women to just stand idly by. What a heritage precedes us. Who knows what mighty miracles future generations of united Esthers will yet accomplish?

Martha Hughes Cannon, another member of the Relief Society also did the mighty work of an Esther. I’ve enjoyed getting to know her. She was born in 1857 in Wales. Her family joined the church and they immigrated to Utah when she was a child. She worked as a schoolteacher by age fourteen while attending the University of Deseret. She chose to study medicine at the University of Michigan medical school. She later earned a B.S. in Pharmacy from the University of Pennsylvania, and also received a diploma from the National School of Elocution and Oratory. Hughes returned to Salt Lake City, Utah where she married, worked as a physician, served in the church and actively promoted voting rights for women. To top it all off, this modern Esther became the first female state senator in the United States in 1896. She beat out Emmeline B. Wells and her own husband by 3000 votes to win the seat. Mind you this was many years before voting rights for women was granted to all women in the United States in 1920.

The Salt Lake Herald, a Democratic newspaper said of her husband and opponent: "Mrs. Mattie Hughes Cannon, his wife, is the better man of the two. Send Mrs. Cannon to the State Senate and let Mr. Cannon, as a Republican, remain at home to manage home industry" She served two terms in the legislature and was noted for her efforts on public health issues. She spearheaded funding for speech-and hearing-impaired students, establishment of a state board of health, and a law regulating working conditions for women and girls. Cannon's third child was born at the end of her second term in office. Martha Hughes Cannon is a vivid example of someone who stood up for good causes and remained true to her potential.

In my small hometown of Zanesville, OH, a small group of women in a small Relief Society group felt that they too could somehow make a difference. I’d like to think that these women would have also taken up banners and marched the streets of their town babes in arm with the earlier suffragists as stalwart and as steadfast as the best of them for a good cause or would have dared to stand in the presence of a king. But they were born to heed different calls. Back in the sixties and seventies, in order to have a new building built, ward members were asked to raise 30 percent of the funds needed—that was an incredible amount of nickels for this group of young mothers who between them had barely any coins to rub together. However, with some ingenuity and hard work they proved that they were worth many nickels and a whole lot more. I was knee-high to these women at the time, but even so I remember their enthusiasm, their laughter and camaraderie, their industry and their excitement to do a good thing. And of course, I quickly learned to ask when I saw delicious breads or sweets resting on the counter, “Is it for us or the Relief Society?”

For over ten years for two days in September, the Country Fair Shopping Center would be filled with people arriving to celebrate “Hi-Neighbor” days and swarming to buy the legendary baked goods of the Zanesville Ward Relief Society. It had started as an event to bring different organizations of the community together. For the sisters, it was an opportunity to add to the building fund as well. So they lugged their large wooden sign out from the basement over and over again and organized themselves. Each year, they worked harder and did more—pies, fresh bread, cookies, lemon bars, apple bars, and more. And it paid off. They aimed to have the best, the biggest and the most beautiful baked goods. The group pooled their talents. Some donated the flour needed, some were drivers making the deliveries from homes to the market, some volunteered to do the kindergarten pickup, and some kept the dishes cleaned while others baked. Sister McNutt (who would knead through over 75 pounds of flour for the weekend and do batches of dough by the cooler full) would get up in the middle of the night in order to provide bread hot-from-the oven at regular intervals throughout the two days. If they had run out of loaves, the sisters manning the tables needed only to look at their watches to tell the customers what time a new batch would arrive. They earned $800 dollars on one of their best days—an unheard of profit for such an event—at a dollar a loaf, you do the math! It was thirteen years, many loaves and nickels later, before the saints in Zanesville could move from their converted Jewish synagogue to a brand new ward building. Sister Murry remembers, “We had a common goal, we worked hard and in the process each of us learned new things and we stretched ourselves. It’s difficult in mere minutes to sum up the magnitude of their contributions in those years.

It was a small part of the funds needed for the building, but their efforts went beyond dollars and cents to build testimonies and character—mine included. By simple things, great miracles are brought to past. While they put the icing on cinnamon rolls, I grew up in their midst spiced with their devotion to God’s work. These sisters are a few of my real-life Esthers who did the good things they were born to do and taught me to do the same.

I am grateful to the many Esthers in my life and also in this world who have lifted my hands when my burdens were heavy and who made me feel welcome in their circles when I arrived here a few months ago. You are worth millions and millions of nickels for all you do for your families, friends, the ward and the community here.

Now I’m not saying that each person needs to petition the president, run for office, store 205, 000 bushels of wheat or bake bread at midnight. Or maybe you do. That’s up to you. What I do fervently believe that each of you matters. You have your own unique calling in life and the courage of an Esther within you to hold your head high in the presence of kings. As saints and disciples we choose to walk along beside our King of Kings, the Savior. We can daily strive to emulate this one who fulfilled his divine destiny and freely gave all—even his own life for us. This is evidence in of itself of his love for us and of our incalculable worth.

Sister Hinckley reminds us, “We all have our place, our important something we can do in our own individual way—something no on else can do for us—our own unique opportunity to serve. The gospel calls to us to stretch ourselves, to embrace our talents, to concentrate on our strengths, to be productive, to be creative, to reach our full potential, which few of us ever do. Perhaps what you are doing, whatever it is or however humble your offering, could be something that no one else could do in quite the same way. Say to yourself: ‘The world is my oyster. I am in control. There is no limit to what I can do.’”

I believe that. Just as Esther and the other women I have mentioned today were able to make a difference, so can we. I testify that all of us are worth so much more than all the nickels in all the banks. Our lives do make a difference in the world around us as we strive to do our best each day. We came into the kingdom of God here on the earth at such a time to do what only each of us can do.

“Is this what I was born to do?” Majorie Pay Hinckley. 2004.
Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Elaine Cannon: “A woman’s significant role is that of being an influence wherever she is. It is her role not only to give life, but to shape life.”

Neal Maxwell: “When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and neighborhoods? Will what happened in the cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses? When the surf of centuries has made the great pyramids so much sand, the everlasting family will still be standing because it is a celestial institution.”

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Prayers in Triplicate

There's a nice rhythm of threes. Particularly in prayer. So at the house on the hill with the big J barn we often bless "friends, family and loved ones."

When I finally started paying attention to the prayers and on days when I wasn't ready to bolt from my knees to run down the driveway at least to the point of the hill where Mr. Clegg would be able to see me, I began to think about this. My friends and all of my family were always my loved ones. Fortunately, I have been blessed I suppose to not have any family whom I don't also love.

We also blessed our "pets, animals and livestock." It has taken many years of living away from the farm to feel like any prayer is complete without that appeal. I started thinking about that trio too. (Maybe we could shorten our standard mantras and I wouldn't have to run to catch the bus!) After all our creatures would have been covered in the category of "loved ones" equally well. That's still holds true today. We like everything we feed and then some. I can even admit that snakes have beautiful skin when I dare to look at them and even though I ardently avoid personal experiences with them. Pets. Too many to count. With genealogies and names and lots of cavorting. Animals. Animals. I suppose the chickens might fall under that label. Chickens are strange. And noisy. And smell. So maybe if we blessed our loved ones and the animals, we'd be good to go.

Then it hit me. Oh dear. That explains it. The ground hogs.

My dad has waged war on those critters for years. Smoke bombs, barbed wire, stamping, tractors. Some wailing and gnashing of teeth. He waves his hand, they taunt him with leisurely forages in the lawn. He blocks their holes. He plows their tunnels. They return. They multiply. Their holes return. They multiply. Their holes riddle the fields. They even moved in under a portion of the shop.

They're silly kind of animals. All chubby and indolent with their grazing. When they run, it's all chubby waddling. Fast. When they stand I'm reminded of prairie dogs with their noses in the wind.

But it's clear. The ground hogs will win because along with every spider, snapping turtle snake, rat, raccoon, rabbit, bull frog and lady bug the animals on our 45 acres are in protective blessed custody. We ask for it!

Come to think of it, there are many, many animals that I'm glad God blesses here and everywhere because of or in spite of our efforts. What an amazing, diverse world we enjoy. Perhaps our prayer pleas are moments in which we pause to think of ways we can bless: make a request into an action we complete ourselves or we surrender: when we admit we have no control over all those holes.

Night on the "Small" Town: Zanesville

At noon today, Benjamin and I sat on the bench in the front yard trying to get the sun to burn away the rotten day both of us were having.

I was slightly envious of him. His rotten day meant when things were going the wrong direction for him, he would dissolve into a complete fit of temper and uncontrollable screaming. But even in the midst of my attempting various methods of handling his frothy fury, I thought, "Yep. There are days when I wish I could just let loose and scream with full lungs of air and just let all the stuff inside burst out like a bad blister." Yet, deep down I do believe that hearty screaming doesn't really change reality.

So I didn't join him. Subdued crying is more my forte.

After some sun therapy, a picnic lunch and some chatting, we picked up our pieces and managed to not feel utterly terrible.

And then our day became great.

First, Isaac and Dylan woke up from their naps rested and peaceful.
Second, Meerkat Manor is an afternoon diversion we all agree on.
Third, I snuck a nap on the couch which helped me to at least put my troubles back in a drawer so that I could enjoy the moment.

There's was only one interruption.
"Emergency! Emergency! Blue Puppy has cottage cheese on him!"

Toys away, shoes on feet, it was time for my date with three incredibly handsome guys.

It was a great date.

We gathered up our favorite Papa John's pizza to go and motored down Maple Avenue over the Muskingum River via I-70 and took our first exit past one of the Carnegie libraries our very own John McIntire library.

It was the Caboose down by Zanesville's train yard we were after. The caboose sits on it's own little mini track and the pizza could barely hold up against the allure of trips across Germany and the entire nation. The boys traveled many miles there and enjoyed the picnic.

Since no outing with Benjamin and Isaac would be complete without a bathroom break, we left our train to head over to the Zanes Landing park. Home of the Lorena Sternwheeler.

We walked along the river and saw the sunset and trees reflected in the water.

We kept hearing music from the pavilion, so once we could bid adieu to the Lorena, we leaped over the little hill to see what that was all about.

Apparently, there were some bands playing at a "free concert" there. We stayed for one of them. "Wild in Waste" from Lancaster, Ohio. Two electric guitars, one bass, a drum kit, some decent musicians and lots of amps. We rocked, don't you know! Isaac kept his eye on that drummer. Dylan danced and Benjamin applauded and kept an eye on the skateboarders in the corners.

When we got home, he stood on the red wagon and pretended to do a skateboard trick.

Our rotten day became a great spring evening. It's the ending we all needed and wanted.

Happy. And yes. Ever after kisses. Lots of them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

Eric has in his possession all five passports and stamped visas. We have tickets on June 5th that will take us to Papeete.