Monday, October 12, 2015

The Christmas of Missed Expectations

Related by John Bass

  The Christmas of 1972 in the small town of Orem, Utah is, without a doubt, the apex of my childhood Christmas delight. As Thanksgiving passed, and decorations started coming out, the December of my first grade year found me excited, and I don't mean a little bit; I mean sugar-fueled, unmedicated ADHD, holiday excited! Christmas was coming, and I could hardly stand myself!  The tree, the gifts, the food! My eyes gleamed in anticipation, and daily discussions on the playground.

  Unbeknownst to me, my parents had decided that we would drive down to California and have a snowless, calm, and low-key Christmas with my grandparents. My mom would ship all of our presents early, skip decorating, and just cook the dinner there.  My grandparents would have their own tree, and my dad would help to decorate the tall peaks of their house. So it was simple.  We did not need a tree. We did not need any more presents, and we did not need to decorate for holidays that we would spend in another state.  It was slated to be the easiest Christmas ever.

  My young hyper-mind could not really wrap itself a concept so foreign as a Christmas going uncelebrated or undecorated at my house. There were some things that I knew for sure; we needed a Christmas tree.  And we needed to start seeing presents. My mom was good at deflecting my questions, so I went straight to my father.  When, "When are we getting a tree?  Is it going to be a real tree?  A fake tree?  Are we getting regular lights, or colored ones like the Young's? Where are we putting the tree, dad? In the middle of the room, or over there in the corner like we did last year?  Can we have the red bottom? When is Christmas?  How many more days 'til Christmas?"went unanswered, I ramped it up with even MORE questions, "You're home! Can we go get a tree and decorate it NOW?  Is it time NOW?  Is it almost Christmas? Do you need help putting up the lights?  Can I help?  Can I help you put up the lights NOW?"  Finally, after one of these lengthy interrogations my poor besieged father had had enough.  As I went in for another round of yuletide questioning my father blurted out in sharp frustration, "WE ARE NOT HAVING CHRISTMAS!" As my eyes dilated to the size of saucers he punctuated with, "WE CAN'T AFFORD IT!"  The ruse produced a shock that did exactly as he had hoped.  There were no more questions about Christmas from me.

  That was that. My father had looked me in the eye and spoken it, which was gospel truth to me.  And as sure as Maxine Goldfine had a big behind, there would be no Christmas for the Bass family.  Because we couldn't afford it.  Looking back, I feel rather mature about the way I handled it. There were no tears, complaints, or self-pitied feelings. I took the news as absolute and final.  Gone were all thoughts of trees and tinsel. Christmas was just a black pall of nothing to look forward to.  My days, and my father's, went back to absolute normal.

  That next day on the playground, my friends were laying out their hopes for bikes and basketball shaped presents under the tree,  and wanted to hear any updates from my house. "We're not having Christmas," I said. "We can't afford it."  Their eyes looked like mine had, and there were whispers about who else this might have happened to before.

  My first grade teacher, noticing a distinct turn in my enthusiasm in my demeanor gently prodded, "John, tell me more about your Christmas wish list!" I gave her the same dreary news, "We're not having Christmas, we can't afford it."   Tears sprang to her eyes and her hand shot to her mouth. It was news I was getting used to sharing.

  During church, my Primary School teacher asked about how many of us had our trees up and I repeated flatly, "We're not going to have a tree, or Christmas this year. We can't afford it."  Adults always seemed thrown when I would mention our inability to have Christmas, but I had learn to live with it. You could see plainly that we had no decorations at our home, no tree.  No nothing. Until...

  About a week before Christmas my family and I were all sitting in the undecorated front room when the doorbell rang. Figuring that it was a friend coming to play, I went to answer the door.  Nobody was there, but a tree was!  Right in the middle of the porch, the most beautiful lush Christmas tree I had ever seen! It was a Christmas MIRACLE! I motioned to my parents, who looked at each other in alarm, to come help bring the tree in the house. "Look!  Its a tree!  Its a CHRISTMAS tree! Its a miracle!" I crowed. My sisters and I danced rings around the tree.  We would have a tree.

  Dumbfounded and confused, my parents brought it in the house, and did what anyone else would do with a tree in the house.  We decorated it. Begrudgingly my folks brought out the ornaments and garlands and lights for our gifted tree while asking each other who would have thought to bring a tree.

  The very next night we were all in the front room, as we had been the night before, when the doorbell rang again. All the children sprang to the door - could a miracle repeat itself? It could. There on the porch, in a beautiful and full box WAS WRAPPED PRESENTS! Big presents, small presents, presents for my parents, and presents for each of us. Oh the joy that flushed my face was 100 watts. There was a TREE, there were PRESENTS! We pulled in the box as my father furrowed his brow and looked to the left and the right of our property. He came in to start questioning my mom when, "BING BONG!" the doorbell went off again. In the same spot that our tree had appeared stood another box. FOOD!  The most glorious kind of food! Turkey, stuffing, canned food, cake mixes and everything for the finest feast a kid could hope to gorge on.  Christmas was complete.  A tree.  Presents. And food. Angels had come that year, and the Bass Family WOULD have Christmas.

  What we did not anticipate was exactly how MUCH Christmas we would have. The very next night our living room turned into a small forest as two more trees were separately delivered. We set up the second one next to the first, but the third one we just kinda propped in a vacant corner. My mom kept peppering my father with questions, "why do people keep giving us stuff?"

  Then came the presents.  Boxes and boxes and boxes of presents!  Friends from school, and church would drop off a turkey and grocery bags of food as my mother searched for some counter space to put the deluge of goodwill that kept coming to our door. We filled up the first tree with presents, and then the second.  After many more door bell drops we had enough presents to surround all three Christmas trees! It was better than my mind could ever have conceived possible.  My mom was picking through the spots on the floor to go deliver some fudge for the church charity drive, muttering under her breath.

  She was so utterly confused. I remember how that changed to "gobsmacked" when a member of the Relief Society stopped by our home one evening, and glancing around our three trees and pirate's hoard of presents on the floor, and food of every sort crammed over every inch of counter and table, she handed my mother another full dinner including her own fudge, "We thought you might enjoy a little something to lift your spirits this season!" After the door shut, my mother clenched her fists, tilted her head back and screamed, "WHY DOES EVERYONE THINK WE ARE POOR!?"

  "Who cares?!" I thought. It was the very best Christmas EVER.  Not only was it the best Christmas I had ever had in Utah, but we got DOUBLE PRESENTS in California! My sisters and I got every single toy that was created for our age group that year.  For some reason, my parents were not as joyful. My mother was crabby, to say the least.  She donated many of our presents, and even ended up taking extra decorations to the Goodwill. She was suddenly fielding questions about, "How are you doing... really?" from all sorts of people.  "We're fine!  WE'RE FINE!" she'd say.  And then more loads of food would show up.

  The sheen of the Christmas joy began to wane as I began to put the pieces together. My friend Rob said, "Did you get the [toy] on your front porch?  It was supposed to be mine, but my mom said that you needed it more because you were poor."  My teacher was very conciliatory, asking if I had enough toothpaste and socks. "Well, yah." Oh.  OHHHH!  The penny dropped.

Throughout the years, my mom would say in a very disgusted tone, "And what about that weird year, where everyone thought we were POOR!?"  I couldn't do it.  For years I couldn't do it.  I couldn't tell her what I had done.  How I had told every friend, neighbor, school and primary teacher that we would not be having Christmas.  After having been away for a number years, I decided that at 21 1/2 years old I would come clean.  I led with, "Mom, remember that really awesome Christmas?"  "UGH!  What an AWFUL YEAR!  EVERYONE THOUGHT WE. WERE. POOR! Why?"  I started backing out of the room.  "Well, it was dad really..." I started. "He said that we weren't going to have Christmas because we couldn't afford it.  And I told a few people,"  My mom was on her feet, and though I was taller, I was still a bit terrified. "WHAT DID YOU DO!?" she said with the skin starting to come away from her skull.  "I told my friends. And the neighbors." I dodged a shoe, "and my school teacher,"  I dodged another shoe, "and everyone at church!"  I ran out of the house with my mother shouting, "JOHN! HOW COULD YOU!? THEY ALL THOUGHT WE WERE POOR!!" And so the memory has ripened over time.  It was the best of times, and for some, it was the worst of times. But it was definitely the most memorable of times. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Friends, Windows, and Mirrors

So, my sister and I were talking about someone who we have noticed does not have a lot of friends.  She was pondering on the reasons why this lady just did not seem to have, or keep, her friends.  That is when I gave her my theory of friends, windows and mirrors.
Window washer at a children's hospital
Windows and mirrors, you see, are pretty much the same thing.  They are glass put somewhere to enhance a surrounding.  The only difference, really, is that one piece of glass has silver behind it, making it reflect back, instead of making it see-through.
  Both are perceived differently with the eye and, standing in front of either, each only allows one dimension to be seen.  In the same way, we say that "the eye is the window to the soul" and, as eyes go, I believe that people are generally either a window, or a mirror.  Window eyes  see outside of themselves.  Mirror eyes really only ever see themselves.
  For those who's lives are a window, they see around them.  Not in the sense that they see anything different, but the way they process the information around them is very different from those people who are "mirrors." They see the mom holding the baby and a purse and trying to strap the child into a stroller with three other kids hanging around and asking why they can't have a cookie. Nothing remarkable. But someone who is a "window" sees that scenario, mentally puts themselves in the position of the mother and thinks, "CRAP!  She needs two more hands or she is going to exhaust the last ounces of precious patience she was granted for today!  Let me go offer to help without seeming like a creeper...."
  Window people see what is going on outside of themselves, and experience life through making evaluations on what it would be like to experience life as others do. And they act accordingly. They offer to help load an older woman's groceries, because they perceive that is something that is difficult for the elderly.  They notice a child standing alone in a grocery store, and stop to see whether mom is nearby, or whether intervention is needed.  They notice the car in the dark that is not turning over and do a mental check to remember if they have jumper cables in the back of the car and wait to see if the engine catches. When window people talk to you, they look straight in your eyes, and it can be massively uncomfortable because you kind of think they are looking straight into your soul.  Unless they are awesome, and then you HOPE that they will look into your soul, and see what no one else can see.  The good parts of you, and the parts that have never had the courage to vocalize, "Help me... I'm still hurting from something...."
Snow White's step mom and her mirror.
  Mirrors are a little different.  Mirrors send back exactly what is in front of them.  Depending on the lighting, you can discover a zit that you didn't know was there, a newly sprung gray hair, or a bit more chub where you hand't noticed it before.
  Mirrors also show off a perfect lipstick line, perfectly groomed hair and eyebrows, and how the stairmaster is doing its job with your can-can.   This intensive detail mapping is not new.  In Greek mythology, there is also a famous mirror that attracted a handsome young man. Forgive me for inserting wikipedia here for the synopsis:
Narcissus and his mirror
"The classic version is by Ovid, found in book 3 of his Metamorphoses (completed 8 AD): the story of Narcissus and Echo. Narcissus was walking in the woods when Echo, an Oread (mountain nymph) saw him, fell deeply in love, and followed him. Narcissus sensed he was being followed and shouted "Who's there?". Echo repeated "Who's there?". She eventually revealed her identity and attempted to embrace him. He stepped away and told her to leave him alone. She was heartbroken and spent the rest of her life in lonely glens until nothing but an echo sound remained of her. Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, learned of this story and decided to punish Narcissus. She lured him to a pool where he saw his own reflection. He didn't realize it was only an image and fell in love with it. He eventually realized that his love could not be addressed and died."  It wasn't a silver mirror, as we now know them to be, but rather a still pond that allowed him to gaze at his own reflection and admire all of the good and desirable things he found about himself, but the illustrations are the same.  Each gazing individual is wholly consumed with one thing, and cannot see anything else around them.
  We learn a couple of lessons here, the first being, of course, that if you piss off a woman, OR her girlfriend, you gonna die. Though we hardly fault Nemesis for trying to teach the selfish Narcissus a lesson, it is also a true lesson that mirror people are often their own punishment.  They lack close friendships, or have friendships that are only superficial and "good" when the other person is willing to let the conversation center around them, their thoughts, their desires and/or how they look.  In my experience, these are the people who will announce, loudly, that they are "bored."
  Window people, on the other hand, are rarely bored.  There is so much to see, so much to do, and so much to know, understand, and experience with others.  They don't tend to exclude, form tiny elite groups, or only identify themselves with one type of person.  They realize that everyone has something to teach, if you will only be patient enough to listen.
The Mirror of Erised
  J.K. Rowling understood this when she wrote of The Mirror of Erised ("Erised" is "Desire" spelled backwards, fyi). Inscribed across the top of the frame is the following text: Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi. Reversing the inscription and rearranging the spaces produces: I show not your face but your heart's desire.
  It is as though she understood the mirror/window concept and figured out how to project what was inside a person's soul onto another surface. The results seen in the mirror were very telling for each character. It revealed what kind of person they were like on the inside. Dumbledor, for example, when he happened upon Harry, saw what Harry saw; a desire for the boy to be with his parents. Dumbledor is a window. He advises young Harry, "Men have wasted away before it, not knowing if what they have seen is real, or even possible," and ultimately, "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that." In other words, don't be a mirror and dwell on yourself, be a window and live the organic, imperfect, life that is surrounding you. See through your eyes outward of your desires, and notice people - their needs, and where you can be a help and interest in other people's lives. Don't forget them. And don't waste your life just waiting for others to step into your fantasy and make you whole.  Don't wait for them to come to you and make you happy; use your eyes to see others and help make THEM happy.
Harry and the Mirror
  And so it is with people and friends.  There is a "seeing" and acceptance that happens when you have darling friends. And they will inconvenience you at the worst time possible. But it is the seeing, and the being there for them, the mutual consideration, love and helping each other that makes it so rich, so rewarding, and so utterly enjoyable.
  So, all things considered, it is best to be a window.  And if you must be a mirror, use it to reflect light into dark places; make a short cut between your brain and your mouth for every good thing that comes into your mind; "I love your boots/pants/watch/haircut/eye color!  Your child is adorable!  You have on ONE kickin' outfit today. I loved your cogent comment.  I'm still rolling it around in my mind.  Giving my brain hamster a workout!  Cute purse!  I wish I had your hair..."
  Cost you nothing. But it sees.  It notices, and it sprinkles goodness in a land parched of goodwill.  And you will have friends.  And if you are good to them, and try to clean your windows of perception regularly; understanding that the person who was sharp with you may have just found out that her husband lost his job, or received a diagnosis that they are not yet sharing.  Make room for possibilities.  And if you will clean your windows, see the good that is around you, then you will not waste away your life wondering if you are perfect enough, pretty enough, or ready enough to get out there.  Or to be judged of others.
Harry Potter with his friends. Each a window, they notice each other.
   A great man once penned: And charity (being a window-type person, aware enough to see others and do stuff for them....) suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail— 
  I have these people in my life, and I am eternally grateful for my friends.  I don't have mirror friends, I have window friends, and I do my best to let them know each other.  It is wonderfulness multiplied - like throwing open curtains in a dark ball room on a sunny day - the more the light, the better it is, and the easier it is to see and feel warmth.  Mirrors rust.  And we will all  die anyway.  So.  You were put on earth to enhance this world.  If you can, and everywhere possible, may I highly recommend that you be a window!  You will always have amazing friends, your life will be rich, and your friends will hopefully give back and  love you for seeing them.  For we reap what we sow.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Nephi's Journal

Perhaps the original, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," this is my commentary on Nephi and the Golden Plates, and is meant for my sister to laugh - so much so, that milk might come shooting out her nostrils....

This year we are reading The Book of Mormon again. My daughter is in the Personal Progress Program, and, if she does everything she can, it will have her reading the Book of Mormon 3 more times in the next 5 years.  In a "small but frequent" effort to help her out, our family is reading one chapter of the Book of Mormon, in the morning, M-F, 52 weeks of the year.  It takes about a year, at that pace, to finish it.
   As we were starting this round, the phrase, "“I do make the record on plates which I have made with mine own hands," led me to ask myself some interesting questions about something that we all know about, but don't often consider.  Like, how and where do you make a golden journal?
  The second of six children myself, and raising four little munchkins of my own, it occurs to me that this would have been both difficult and annoying to everyone else in the family to create a diary, “six inches wide by eight inches long.” 5 —Joseph Smith Jr.  Some of the physical descriptions say, "“Of the thickness of plates of tin.”  “When piled one above the other, they were altogether about four inches thick,” and  “weighing altogether, from forty to sixty lbs.”  —Martin Harris We learn that, “a large portion of the leaves were so securely bound together that it was impossible to separate them.” 16 —David Whitmer,  
  So, going conservatively - a 40 lb journal.  And though it is not known EXACTLY what the metals were made of, we know that it was hard enough to be written on both sides, looked like gold, and that there were quite a few pages.  In PAPER, the Book of Mormon, of similar size, takes up about 642 pages, so 321 back-to-front pages.  Then there was the sealed portion, so multiply those 321 pages by 2/3 more and you get about 963 pages - give or take some pages.  Assuming - for the sake of argument - that they could fit two English pages on one Hebrew/Reformed Egyptian page, that still leaves us with 481 golden pages.  And you gotta ask yourself, WHEN would you have time to make that, and WHERE did Nephi get the materials? And whose idea was this anyway?  We can only imagine. So lets imagine it...

Imagined Scenario 1 : God and Jesus; The Workout of the Gods

God - So, Jesus, I was thinking about our little problem-o; Laman and Lemuel are pretty strong. They're older, and Nephi isn't in quite the shape we need him to be for *ta daaaaah!* SHIP building! I love the way that sounds, SHIP Building!  Anyway, we really need to drag Laman and Lemuel  along.  If we just send the righteous people off, we're gonna have another Enoch on our hands.  We need a foil so that people can see the  bad example, and how to handle my instructions better. Half of them won't realize that they are more Laman than Nephi...

Jesus -  Yeaaaah.  I think we should devise a personal-trainer type thing, where Nephi gets a daily workout.  We will have to work on his upper body, get him seriously cut,  and then have him get some real glute strength.  I say we "forget" to tell him stuff so that he has to keep going back to Jerusalem and pick stuff up.  About 5 times before the big hike should do it. Ideas?

God - How about we have him go to "forge school" and make a heavy journal for him to tote around? Say 40-60 lbs? 

Scenario 2:  Where is Nephi?

Knowing that Lehi lived in Jerusalem back in 600 + BC, we know that families are huge, and helping out around the house.  If we imagine that Lehi had a forge (which would also explain the steel bow), then when did Nephi have time to make all these pages?  Probably during family daylight working  hours. In order to get the metal from it's natural state (he said he went hunting for ore...) into a page state, there would have had to have been quite the elaborate set up.  You need something to super-heat the metal, some sort of form to pour it into to ensure consistent pages, and then something to drill the holes through the thin tin-like pages without ripping it. Who has time for that? I imagine that it went a little like this:

Laman - Hey Mom, where's Nephi - its time for picking up goat poop.
Sariah - Um, he's out in the forge.
Laman - Doing WHAT? What the FREAK!  First it was his hippy hiking with a wheelbarrow, and now he's out there diddly farting around again using up all the firewood!  ALL because DAD lets him do it!!
Sariah - He's... uh, making a journal.  Its a father/son thing.  You know how they are. Making records, compiling records, records, records, records!  They've been really going through the camping gear too. I don't know what is UP with those two lately... I just hope it's a phase.
Laman - THAT IS SO DUMB!  Why does dad love him more than me! And I hate camping - I am NOT going anywhere with them; I don't care WHAT dad says.  I'd rather, like, tie myself to a post than have to go camping with my family.  Seriously mom - he's been getting out of goat poop duty for a MONTH! What the heck!  How many pages does he freaking need! "My name is Nephi and I'm a total LAME-O" - end of story!  I'll even write it for him! "I am a total nerd-dork who is wasting all my life making a freaking journal so I can get out of goat poop duty..."  It's not like anyone is ever gonna read that stuff. What a dweeb.  Seriously.
Sariah - I know... I know... but you got to go to J.E.W.  Jerusalem for a semester, and he didn't.  Can you hand me my favorite golden pot - the big heavy one with the lid and handles?
Laman - Sure. Where is it?
Sariah - What do you mean, "where is it?" It's where it always..... NEPHIIIIIIIIII!!!!!!
Scenario 3: NO, It's YOUR turn!
One of my favorite explanations about the plates is from Orson Pratt’s description of rings “through which a rod might easily be passed, serving as a greater convenience for carrying them.”  Those plates would have been a significant weight and now we gotta tote these suckers around.  It is like an early version of the TOTAL GYM.  You put a stick through some weights, and then do a bunch of repetitions.  But who would have had the responsibility?
Nephi's wife: Honey, if I have to tote one more kid around, I swear, I'm just gonna lose it!  I was up with the baby all night, and your dad says we gotta head even FARTHER into I-don't-know-where again.  I"m really starting to think this was a bad idea.
Nephi: Um.  I can take munchkin off your hands, if you want to take my plates?
Nephi's wife: YOUR FREAKING JOURNAL!  Are you SERIOUS!  Your brother is still pissed about you using his best camel blanket to rub that black crap all over the letters - not to MENTION the fact that he read what you wrote about his "murmuring"!  I think if you even "mention" your journal again everyone except your dad is gonna toss you over a cliff,  toss that stupid journal on top of you, and then TAP DANCE ON YOUR GRAVE!!!  I told you to leave it, but NoooOOOOooOOO!  Had to play the, "Lord told me to do it" card! I HATE THAT CARD!   I told you I didn't want to hear one more thing about your stupid two ton journal.  Here.  I"ll strap the baby to your front.  Now you're equally balanced...
The scriptures can seem really stiff at times, but I think that when we look behind the details and think, "Wait a minute..." we can see a bigger part of the picture. Two of my favorites from my sisters:

"My favorite story is how King Lamoni marveled for an hour at Ammon.  Like, what did everyone else do while he was marveling? 'So... should we order out for pizza or something?'" - Reagan

Lovin' me some scripture study....

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Gathering Hair Balls and Other Gardening Witchcraft

One of the things that I have been dabbling in is gardening.  I mean, the people who do it go outside, pick fresh stuff - FOR FREE - and eat it right off the vine, or plant, or whatever.  Its supposed to taste so much better than the grocery store stuff.  I took a class from a lawyer-turned-gardener, which was fascinating.  If there's something I know about lawyers, is that a good one always does his "Due Diligence."
He researches his project extremely well, and then builds an excellent case for winning.  Kinda hard to argue about gardening with a guy holding a 75 lb watermelon he grew...  So I attended his classes, took copious notes, and walked out with an "A"... for attendance. What I didn't know, was that gardening is as close to witchcraft as you get in the US of A.  And, like Harry Potter, it is a world with regular lookin' individuals that operate in a totally different sphere, doing totally weird stuff.

We just moved into this sphere a month ago.  And since we moved into a house with a huge strip of front yard that is 1.5 acres long, with a garden set up, it seemed natural that we would fall into gardening.  After all - we have the space!  The previous owner left us a legacy of some plants already growing, and spigots properly placed along the borders of an area ready for a garden the size of most people's yards.

My neighbor, Mr. Paul Gourdin who owns the surrounding 7 acres, boards horses, and has lived long enough to have grandchildren, completed two missions (Argentina AND the local Cannery), and has his own ginormous garden plot, all under his belt.  After meeting, he asked if I was going to do a garden.  I replied with a timid, "Uh... yeah."

"Last frost is past, so, its time.  What are you gonna put in?"

 As my mind scrambled to come up with plants - that are garden plants - that would feasibly be planted at this time of year, in this state, I went into a mini-panic as my City Girl side started to show.  There was this long silence while that little hamster was spinning in my brain. Artichokes? NO - that's California, coastal.  Celery? No!  No one eats celery around here.  Plants!  What am I planting!!??  Oh my gosh - he's staring at me!

"Corn?" He offered.

"Yeah!  Yeah - corn! Annnnd, sooooome SQUASH!" Which was a dumb thing to say -since I have a total of ONE recipe for squash.

"Tomatoes?" He countered.

"Oh yeash. Of course tomatoes.  Yah.  And maybe some peppers."

"Hot or bell?" How else can I say this, except that his retort was so fast I had to think what a BELL pepper was versus a HOT pepper.  My hamster was wearing out...

"Uhmmmm.  Both?" Who doesn't need a habanero plant in their yard?!  Tons of uses.  TONS...

"Zucchini?" came the next rapid fire vegetable,

"Ah - sure!" I said before my brain kicked in.

OH MY GOSH NO!  What was I thinking?! That is another plant that I only associate with "bread," and only then when someone ELSE hands it to me! The zucchini bread, not just the zucchini... I have no idea what to do with that.  Except substitute it with the one squash recipe that I have....

He nodded a "knowing" nod and offered to put the "discs" on the tractor, plow in some horse manure, and have it ready by Monday.  He said he would text me a list of plant categories to get at the IFA.  Because I knew, of course, that you have to plant different varieties of plants.  If you open a single brand of seeds and spread them around they will all mature at the same time. And then all need to be harvested at the same time. DUH... I knew that.  Sort of. It was written down in some of my notes. Somewhere.

The IFA is the American farmer's equivalent to "The Leaky Cauldron."  Everyone is going about their business in an utterly strange environment, while the muggles mostly stand and stare.  At stuff.  Sphagnum Peat Moss, Sevin Bug Poison, Bp, rows and rows of plants, flowers, gourds, seeds, pots and dirt.  The conversations are just as bizarre. As I entered, I passed by two men in a heated discussion,

"I think it's HIGH TIME they Mayor opened hunting season so we can massacre all those bastards - going in and munching my apples and peaches! They ate my tomatoes and took nips out of my pumpkins - RUINED them last year.  Just ruined them!"

"Yah - but it'll have to be with the hunting cross-bow from high ground, so they don't bleed out.  No one wants a deer bleeding out in their front lawn."

My jaw hit the ground. Hunting with cross-bows? I thought all gardeners were overall-wearing, red bandanna and straw-hat totin hippies!  Huggin' trees and lovin' Mother Earth and all, - not mass murderers.  As they glanced my way, I suddenly became fascinated with a poster with an acorn squash on it.  I avoided eye contact and looked instead at my list for plants. First up - tomatoes. So I decided to find the tomatoes.  I saw two women having a discussion about the merits of rhizomes and whether the liquid root simulator was worth it, or just rolling the seeds in the dry powder was better.  Undecided, they discussed the merits of inoculating seeds and which went on first, the nitrogen fixing bacteria, or the rhizome powder.  I think they were speaking English, or Granglish.  Gardener-English.  Since they seemed to know what they were doing, I approached and asked if they knew where the tomatoes were.

"Right over there..." Which was said in a tone similar to that used as if I had asked where the sun was.

I picked up the plants and realized why people were walking around with carts. Plants in pots of dirt are heavy!  I started working my way through my list, until I came to the pumpkins.  The nearest "plant" savvy person near to me was suddenly asking for a seed vibrator. I didn't even want to know, so I just kept walking until I saw someone in short-shorts and a tank top who looked like they were evaluating plants instead of just trying to guess what they were.

"Do you know where they put the pumpkins?  These vegetables aren't in alphabetical order..." I said, trying to sound as though all the OTHER garden centers were laid out reasonably.

"Uh huh, yaaah.  They're not.  Pumpkins are over on that table..."

I went over there, and I got the feeling that people thought I was a lonely pampered woman buying up a garden just trying to keep a brawny lawn-and-garden boy busy for the summer.  There was one solitary pumpkin plant on a big spot of empty table. As I looked around it, I searched for the others, as though the plants might be covered in some invisibility cloak, or hiding under the table.  Nope. So I assume that its like waiting for french fries, and its best to wait for the next batch to arrive and ensure getting a nice, strong-lookin' plant instead of the runt of the litter. I went back to the short-shorts lady,

"This is all I found, and my list says I need four. Do they have more in the back?"

Giving me a quick look up and down, and keeping an eye on me as she hollered around to one of the boys if there were any more flats in the back.  He hollered back,

"Nah - that's the last of 'em!"  Meaning the last of what was planted at the right time, that would sprout when it needed to, to be ready for Halloween.


So I took the one sad punkin' and the rest of my order and checked out trying to avoid the stares of the dedicated gardeners and deer murderers. I made a mental note: garden centers are HOT!  Do not show up in white capris, kitten heels, and a sweater top.

One o'clock Monday finally arrived, and I was out in the tilled garden with my seeds and potted plants. Planting is actually not a complicated thing.  Draw a line down the middle of the row with a stick. Lay the seeds the appropriate distance apart.  Cover them up and water.  What my neighbor knew, and I clearly did not, is that this process takes enough time to necessitate also wearing a hat.  I burned my lily white skin into a Farmer's tan with the first 45 minutes of planting. Paul had his straw cowboy hat that looked nice and shady as we leaned over the furrows.  It got worse for me as the afternoon wore on.  And its not a "tan." What I got is red skin that is also speckled throughout with even darker red bumpy angry skin that will not get you noticed on the beach.  More like, it will have people toss you money for your deformity.

Within a short time of the garden going in, I also experienced my first suicide. Even after careful planting, watering, and fertilizing, one of my cucumbers went in the ground, got watered, and decided that it hated it so much outside of the nursery that it dried up in it's $1.47 Miracle-Gro well-watered peat-moss pot.  And it refused to live any more. Looking at that plant with the "care for tab" still brightly attached, all I feel is a mix of pity and anger,

"Look you stupid plant!  All the other plants decided that they could hack it!  I watered you just as much as them! What is your DEAL?  COME ON! You are basically in the same spot that you were on Saturday! With more air! And fewer mass-murderers! And more room to grow! What do I have to do to make you happy, huh!?"

It didn't care.  It wilted, then shriveled into nothingness, all within 36 hours.  If you had a microscope, you could not find it out there. Which, after discovering nothing but the tab, had me muttering about the intelligence of plants and realizing that my old self never used to do that... Imperius curse?

So now, at this point in the gardening process, I have some plants on suicide watch.  I make regular sweeps around the garden to see if they've done anything stupid.  I've got a habanero plant that is refusing to put his leaves up and just looks depressed all the time.  "Buck up there lil' pepper - you got water today!  Just as much as the other peppers and they aren't giving me this grief! You really need to pull it together now! I AM WATCHING YOU!"   Which feels weird to be giving a pep talk to a depressed plant.

As does my recent conversation with Gourdin, about two weeks into all this.  I went over to Gourdin's to ask about thinning, and whether I'd pruned correctly for both raspberry plants (of course I had - I'd been reading my gardening notes!). His eyes got a little wider, which is about as much expression as I've ever seen.

"Both?  Which two are you talkin' about?"

I waved in the direction of the raspberry patch that was lookin nice and tidy after hours and hours of pulling out a veritable Serengeti of old neglected canes and long grass that was growing happily there and choking the life out of the other raspberries, and then waved over to the other side of the garden where there was now a nicely trimmed raspberry plant where a messy raspberry hydra had once been. I had it nice and trimmed with canes carefully re-woven throughout its trellis - just like the book said.

Without moving his head an iota, he looked at the raspberry plant trellis, looked at me, and said,
"That's a grape."
"It is?" I stammered.
"Uh huh.  That's a grape plant.  It'll go all over.  Keep it watered."

First dead plants, now wrong plants.

"Oh!  I didn't know.  I sure hope you're supposed to trim 'em!  Cuz I went all 'French Revolution' on them yesterday and decapitated all sorts of stuff!" which I thought was terribly witty.

No reply.

So... I ventured again. "Also, some deer took a bite out of my tomato plant.  Any ideas?"

"Get a hair bag." he said flatly.

"A... a hair bag?" I leaned in as if I was struggling with my hearing aid.
My little brain hamster was running furiously now.  What in THE royal hell was a hair bag?

"They hate the smell of human hair.  So you get your hair trimmed, have 'em sweep it up in a bag, and then stuff wads of hair into ladies nylons. Hang it right by the plant.  That should help deter them for about a summer. If you don't want to add any more hair, just spray it next year with deer repellant.  Or you can buy a bush like this one. (He pointed to a munched up bush.)  It kills deer.  I had to put a cage around it this year after the deer ate the darned thing down to the nub!"

I can not tell you which is weirder.  That he told me that, or that I actually went and did as he suggested.  And the salon is apparently in on the deal because they were like,
"Oh yah - totally, here ya go!"
I half expect them to start recommending eye of newt and wolfs-bane for future problems!  But I did it.  Hung five bags of hair in knee-highs all around the tomatoes and the pumpkin patch - looking over my shoulder.  As I was tying them up I got a little worried that anyone I knew would stop by and ask what I was doing.

"I'm just out here... hangin' some of my hair.  In these nylons.  To, ya know, keep the deer away... until the cross-bow hunt..."

It seems like so much hoo doo nonsense, but since everyone is in on it, I guess its worth a try. I wonder if I can use the hair from my drain. But then I imagine the deer saying,
"Oh my GOSH!  It's Coconut scented hair!  Margarita's everyone!!" and then having all my plants be gone. I don't know.  I have no idea how much my hair really stinks.

But this I do know; gardens are not free.  It is not effortless or for the faint of heart. And between weather, animals and bugs trying to take it out, I now empathize when I hear the conversation about someone leaving lots of deer poop on the Mayor's front porch.  And whether we will live to reap anything out of it is yet to be seen.  For all I know, I have just planted a delicious deer/bug buffet. I figure that I will worry about what to do with 250 lbs of tomatoes later.

Meanwhile, my poor pioneer ancestors are turning in their graves. "What is she DOING!?  THOSE ARE GRAPES!"  But I do have such respect for the farmers out there who do this as their job.  They may have to send stuff out to grocery stores green and whatnot, but the fact that we have access to such awesome food in all its variety is amazing to me.  And I'm gonna try and at least give it a shot. Not like the deer massacre shot, just "trying it" kind of shot. Hoo Doo and all. "Garden! Wingardium Leviosa!"

Sunday, May 12, 2013


I hate moving.  Yet I am getting super good at it.  We are on day 12 in our new place, and we finally have everything that was initially moved IN to the garage is now out of the garage.  It's not quite perfect, but let's face it; moving is like a typical college semester.  At the outset, you start out doing everything perfectly. Perfect materials and a totally unrealistic idea of exactly how long it's going to take. Then the assignments start to overlap, you throw in a few, "Awww, that would be so fun!" activities and suddenly you find yourself living in sweatpants and greasy hair while you start living off of Doritos and (name of your favorite caffeinated beverage here). Moving is like that.

I have learned a few tips and tricks about moving in all my years of experience.  And please, feel free to add your own ideas here.

1. Move the art.  It is the first thing that can come down off the walls, and is best transported in your own fair vehicle. Bubble wrap and boxes at high end prices will still leave you with a very lovely cracked frame, statue, favorite porcelain statue.  Move the art, and get it into a safe place.

2. Avoid cardboard boxes.  Boxes are expensive, and are only good for ONE thing; the ride from one place to the next. It is the "insult to injury" of moving.  Having to buy boxes that you have been trying for YEARS to get out of the house is mind-bending.  Especially once you see the prices.  Then once you have boxed up all of your crap, you must UNbox it, and, as if that weren't enough, you must now deal with the boxes. Yes, it helps movers to make a TON of money off of you, and it makes everything nice and tidy, but if you are moving locally - skip the boxes and start getting creative with garbage bags.  THOSE, you will reuse!

However, if you MUST use boxes, then arrive at your new place and immediately find a way to get them OUT of y our new place.  Don't place boxes in some random area with the idea that you will "deal with these later." No, just dump them out in the approximate room where they go, and then hustle the boxes outside with a "Free to a Good Home!" sign.  You will pick up the stuff on the floor, you will never develop a desire to unpack a box. EVER.

The upside, is that you get very realistic about your stuff when you see it all on the floor.  If - with all of your worldly possessions scattered about, you find that you can't deal with all of the stuff on the floor- it is usually a good time to hold a garage sale, or just keep an active "to donate" pile going.  Once it fills a garbage bag, trot it off to the Salvation Army/Deseret Industries/Goodwill.  DO NOT GO THROUGH IT.  Throwing away twice is just masochistic..

3. Move the kitchen first.  I made a city-to-city move within my own state, so while the kids were at school, I started hauling over the kitchen between drop-offs and pick-ups.  Most family activity thrives around the kitchen.  And it is the absolute hydra of breakables, perishables, and necessitous spoons, cutting boards and pots. If you can set up your kitchen then above all else, at least you will not starve, and you can deal with almost anything else that comes your way during your transition. Paper plates and plastic ware will save you when you are between addy's.

4.   Live a container lifestyle.  Halloween stuff - in a container with a lid.  Christmas stuff - container.
 Kitchen pasta - pasta bucket. This has been SUCH an incredible blessing to me.  It is HIDEOUS to plan and plot buying and setting them up in the moment, but ohhhh what a dream to move a basement that was already sorted and ... contained. And.... if you have the means.... I highly recommend getting a label maker.  Those little suckers are worth their weight in gold.  It is the key to freeing yourself from being the keeper of all the family "where is it?" information.

5. Be flexible. Each place I have lived in has its good and bad attributes.  I have substituted having a garbage disposal for an incredible front yard for my kids to play on.  And a garden.  Any place can be your Eden if you have the right attitude.  Tell your kids that this is home, and that you will be going on an adventure to find those best friends that you just haven't met yet!  Moving is like opening a new treasure chest.  You look around you, and you have no idea what gems surround you.  Be open to new people and new experiences.  On one of my previous moves, I was on bed rest and this totally skinny lady in running shoes came over to watch my daughter for me. Looking her up and down, well,  I KNEW that we probably didn't have much in common.  She probably ate tofu and planned marathons for fun.  How wrong I was.  She loves chocolate, she wears running shoes for comfort, and is one of the dearest people on earth that I know.  Allow yourself to believe that things will turn out well.  And more times than not.  It will. Just like your best college semester.

Monday, April 8, 2013

How to Clean the Fridge When you don't Want to

There are certain jobs connected with living that are secondary jobs.  If they are not done, your world does not fall down.  Things like... mowing the lawn, organizing your craft section and one of the most glaring of secondary jobs, cleaning out the fridge.  I hate doing it.  The doing is gross, sticky, pickle-mixed-with-chocolate-sauce and chicken-blood gross.  Unfortunately for me, I do NOT have anyone else in my home that has an OCD-need to keep a pristine, well oiled, defrosted and spiffied-up refrigerator   So.  The only one to notice that it is gross enough to require attention is... me.  If you are like me, you may need a little encouragement to attack this disgusting task.  I hereby offer up my solutions for attacking this unsavory secondary job.

#1 - The first step in attacking this truly disgusting task is to KNOW that you need to do it. That means that you *need* to first take an afternoon off, go over to the cupcake store and really soul search on what your "disgusting" level is.  Exactly HOW bad does it have to get before you just can't stand it anymore? At what point are you moved to action, - and does that level of mold perhaps need adjusting?

#2 - After you have found, and met, your disgusting level quota, and KNOW that you need to do it, grab your phone.  I did this very successfully today.  I dialed up my darling friend Mish (when I say that name, you should automatically think to yourself, "Oh I LOVE her!").  As I sat there staring down my gross fridge, we started talking about THE grossest fridge we have ever had to clean - in great detail.  I pull up my bra strap, and wedge my phone in there so that I am "hands free." As you continue this very vivid description of former filth, it should encourage you to grab the 409 and a cleaning rag.  Ya know, the rag that is actually a small towel.

#3 - After your have a good discussion of disgusting fridges rolling, your 409, and a towelrag, just start taking stuff out and putting it on the counter.  Don't look at it.  Just put it on the counter.  Unless it is leaking.  Put that in the sink.  As the conversation moves to gross people you can't believe live in such squalor  just take out one shelf at a time, scrub it good, and leave it out to dry. When it gets to the bins, scrub inside and out, then turn them like a cake you are decorating while spraying down each side.  Turn the bin, not the sprayer so that you are always spraying IN to the sink, not on the counter, or the floor.

#4 - With your towelrag, and an empty fridge, start to spray the insides of the fridge, and then wipe and start to work your way down.  When you hit the bin area, just spray like you're putting out a fire.  Scoop up all of the fridge crumbs, dried milk and unspeakable dross into the rag until there is nothing left but clean plastic. If you describe this part in detail to your friend, she will start to clean her fridge as well.

#5 - Then, it's time to just enjoy yourself as you start to restock.  Toss the moldy yogurt(s), group all 4 bags of bread that were breeding in the back shelves, and you may discover that you now have 5 bags of carrots that you keep buying because you can never remember if you have them while grocery shopping.  You just always remember that you need them and were gonna use for a roast/snack a couple of weeks ago.  As you start to put everything back into happy groups, (how did I get 6 blocks of cream cheese and 7 sticks of butter?) you may discuss new recipes to put the carrots in, or, just as a random suggestion, talk about those self-righteous cleaning nuts who clean their fridge every week.  I plead the 5th, and admit to nothing here.  However, if those topics don't suit you, you can move on to other important topics like food storage, and whether or not you need a solar generator.

But the simple fact will remain - you have just cleaned the fridge.  And as you swing the door open and a choir of angels sing, you can smile each time you gaze into your sparking fridge.  And should someone need to borrow some butter, you will now know whether or not you actually have some, and encourage them to go fish for it themselves.  This is so much better than having that shifty-eyed look of a car thief when someone asks to get something out of your semi-disgusting fridge.

And always, always, thank your friend for their help. Spread the love, and celebrate your success by reminding your husband that its time to mow the lawn.....

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Empty Pages

In a rush to a symposium where I would need to take notes, I grabbed the nearest notebook I could find.  A few days later, I went to review my notes.  As I flipped from the pages to figure out which way was front and back, a page caught my eye.  At the top was a page labeled, "Ultimate Secrets of my Life."  As I scanned the page, I realized that it was blank.

This notebook is my daughter's.  I found her drawings up near the front.  And as I looked at that page, I began to wonder about her.  What ARE the "ultimate secrets" of her life?  The very fact that there is that title makes me believe that there are secrets.  But the fact that it is blank reminds me of myself.  And of you.  There is, in the dungeons of my heart, thoughts and experiences that have been locked away that will most likely not see the light of day.  They are mine.  They have shaped who I am, how I see the world, and the statistics of my life.  Some are interesting, many are not, but they are the essence of who I am when no one else is looking.

Will you ever find them here?  Maybe.  Everyone has a bit of transparency to their life.  Scars, habits, accents, and even genetics tell you something about each person you meet.  There are the standard stories we tell each other, "About the time that....".  But there are those that we don't tell as well. The questions of whether or not we feel valued.  The hopes and aspirations we have that some may not understand. We keep them guarded in our own little tower with vigilant guards set to protect them.  I will give you an example:

 When I was young, I wanted to be a world champion ice-skater. I didn't know then, as I know now, that I did not have the ideal physique for ice skating.  But oh how I loved the movement, the costumes, and the amazing spins, jumps and choreography that I saw on the tv.  To dance, jump, and spin with abandon and show physically what the music makes you feel internally. To fly and move in a way that can only be accomplished with very little friction. Which is also why I seriously enjoy watching Spider Man when he is flying between buildings. Mostly it was the costumes though.  The twirly skirts that catch the air.

I never did turn out to be a world class skater. Of the few times that I did go ice skating it was NOT what I had imagined in my mind.  The bird-flapping arms trying to stay balanced with feet that never seemed comfortable on top of a blade.  And I never got the costume either. Ice rinks are cold anyway.  But it did teach me to listen to the heart of my each of my children. Know their desires and let them try to follow their heart.  I didn't succeed where I wanted to, but I did became a wicked air-hockey player.  With a competitive edge so fierce that the puck often flies off the table.

Not much of a secret, huh? But even if you have known me for years, you would most likely not know either of those things about me. Like the way I just found out that the man I've been married to for over 14 years played the trumpet in his youth.  And those don't even come close to being any of my "ultimate" life secrets.  Those might strike fear, pity, or shock in your own heart.  But even if you were curious, you would not find them, or  know them.  I have not written them down anywhere, for anyone.  Nor will I.  Those are ultimately in an impenetrable part of me that even I rarely visit.  But it reminds me that there is an interior life to every person.  I don't think that there is enough time to know each other as well as we might like.

I reached up to pin down the slivers I had caught from Heaven.
They were hammered down between my heart and mind
To remind me of what I was and what I was meant to do.
Somewhere in the night I forgot where they were
Fear caught a hold of me and ravaged my soul
Cold fingers, lost eyes, and uncertain heart collapsed me
Til I found the first sliver I had hammered
And traced the it back to where it first fell.

Yep.  Now I gotta go move like Jagger and get some cleaning done.  I will be dancing where you can't see me, and singing where you are most likely glad you can't hear me.  And I suspect, that many of you are doing the same. There are so many empty pages to fill.