Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Family Means Never Being Up the Creek without a Paddle

When my children were much younger (the oldest was thirteen at the time), I experienced the surgical menopause to end all surgical menopauses. Undergoing hysterectomy at the age of 39 left me with an abrupt hormonal deficit that quite literally took me to the brink of insanity. (At the time, I sort of wished I could just let go and sink into oblivion, but I guess I was too much of a control freak.) The result? I was an entirely lucid bystander at my own neurochemical meltdown, and it would not be an exaggeration to call the experience horrific. In fact, with four children depending upon me, it was a nightmare.

Fortunately, my doctors eventually came up with a hormone replacement cocktail that mimicked my former production of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone closely enough to put me back on track...but it was not an easy process, nor a quick one. The healing took place over a period of months and even years, and the Lord gave me the opportunity to learn many things about myself that I could not have known otherwise, but those things are not what I want to write about today. Today, my thoughts are turned to what the Lord taught me about family. (Especially my family.)

I'm convinced that getting through the first month of mood swings, sleeplessness, heart palpitations, and general malaise without the help of my sister, Nikki, would have been all but impossible. Despite having three children of her own, one a brand new baby, she spent every waking hour at my house so I wouldn't have to be alone. Several months later, when my husband and I made the difficult decision to move away from our support system in order to pursue a career opportunity, my parents continued to lend a hand by paying me lengthy visits, while my other sister (Jayne, who lived in our new area) became part of a sisterly tag team that kept me afloat. I knew for certain that I could call upon any one of my four siblings and have immediate help, and my mom and stepfather made themselves completely available to me, too. Best of all, throughout the entire ordeal, my husband and children stood by me with as much love and loyalty as anyone could ever hope to receive.

Which brings me back to my main point here: what I learned about family. I learned that belonging to mine meant that I would never find myself up the creek without a paddle. (Not that I hadn't known this before, but now my knowledge was experiential rather than intellectual.) I had seen my family in action, and they had not disappointed me.

Let's face it. Bad things happen to good people and not-so-good careful people and not-so-careful lucky people and not-so-lucky people. In fact, troubles come to everyone, young and old, wise and foolish, deserving and undeserving. What I want my children to know, as I have known, is that their parents are solidly behind them, no matter what happens in life. Or how it happens. Or why.

Our family motto is "Stand sure," and I hope my children feel sure that their immediate and extended family members will stand beside them always, through thick and thin. If they are not yet certain of this, then life will teach them (as it did me), and they will not be disappointed.

The simple truth is this: No burden, challenge, mistake, misunderstanding, or quarrel is so powerful that a healthy, committed, eternal family structure cannot support it. Sure, the walls may shake a little, but if the foundation is solid, no amount of huffing and puffing can blow our houses down.

Which is why that cool picture at the top speaks to me so loudly...
Because family means never having to be up the creek without a paddle.

And that means everything.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There's No Place Like (a new) Home

I've been down south this weekend checking out the house
(grass isn't as dead as it looks...)

that these guys may soon be calling home.

They'd be very happy to upsize a bit,

(eating area on other side of door to the right)

and we'd be very happy to go visit them!

Pretty cute place, huh?

Especially from the top of the stairs.

Time to say good-bye...

Be sure to close the door on your way out!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

On the Road Again...or Rather, In the Air

Taking a quick trip today to see the grandkids (and their parents). You can see who rates first billing! heehee

Just kiddin', folks. Just kiddin'. All are equal in this mom/grandma's sight...

And I am looking forward to THIS sight.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three Books That Are Well Worth the Reading

With fall officially in the air (carrying with it the prospect of long, chilly evenings and warm, cozy fires), my thoughts turn to snuggling down in my favorite chair with a delicious book. I'd love to hear your comments about any satisfying reads you've run into recently. In return, I will share three pretty tasty ones that I've enjoyed.

The Guernsey Library and Potato Peel Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, is set in post-WWII London in 1946. This is an engaging story about an equally engaging writer who is looking for a creative departure from the formulaic heroine that has made her famous. She finds that departure through a letter from the founder of The Guernsey Library and Potato Peel Society, and the fun begins as she is introduced to a cast of characters so quirky and appealing that you'll want to jump into the book with her. The plot is moved by letters written by and to the protagonist (a lost art), but this device is used so skillfully that you forget all about it. Charming, funny, and sunny.

The Forgotten Garden: A Novel, by Kate Morton, has all the magic of The Secret Garden and all the mystery of Daphne Du Maurier rolled into one gentle and romantic read. The story spans the years 1900 to 2005, tracing the puzzle pieces of a little girl's identity through three generations and across three continents. The plot jumps around a bit, but once you get used to the style and familiarize yourself with the almost Dickensian characters, you will move seamlessly through this nearly 700-page book. If you are like me, it will seem like far fewer than 700 pages, and you will be sorry when the last one is turned.

Twenties Girl: A Novel, by Sophie Kinsella, is plain, old-fashioned fun. Or maybe I should say new-fashioned, because the author is nothing if not hip. In general, I am not a big fan of Kinsella, but this one takes a step up from her norm by introducing a ghost that I found just as intriguing, mischievous, sympathetic, and evocative as the old sea captain in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. No one would ever call Twenties Girl serious literature, but any reader who doesn't need to be a snob to feel validated would have to call it serious entertainment. As for me, I read it with considerable pleasure in one sitting!

Hope you enjoy some or all of these, and don't forget to leave a comment with a tip or two for me! (I love a good recommendation...)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dancing with the Stars: Bigger and Better

I spent Monday and Tuesday nights watching Dancing with the Stars with a reasonable degree of enjoyment. Can't say for sure why I'm liking it better than usual (my DVR and fast forward button certainly play a role, sparing me the dull bits), but I also think the personalities appeal to me significantly more this season. Or maybe there aren't quite as many annoying ones. Either way, I may be watching every week this time around, which is definitely a new behavior for me when it comes to DWTS. (Unlike So You Think You Can Dance, which I not only watch every week but sometimes replay later to savor my favorite routines!)

My picks for last night would be Kelly Osbourne and Mya, though some of the others appealed to me, too. (Derek Hough was the unrivaled king of choreography, with partner/supermodel Joanna Krupa the clear dance diva, but the jury's still out on her likability factor.) Definitely likable were the new dance relays, offering a great arena to compare the contestants fairly.

Monday night I had fun with Louie Vito (grinning snowboarder) and Donny Osmond (aging but likable teen idol), got a kick out of Chuck Lidell (macho kickboxing dude), and enjoyed a few more. I wasn't sure what to make of Tom DeLay. Can you be sorta good and sorta awful at the same time? Apparently so! (I thought Macy Gray successfully stuck to the sorta awful side of the spectrum, by the way. No ambiguity there at all.) Was anyone else wondering if her performance was, shall we say, herbally influenced?

Kelly Osbourne hasn't been a particular favorite with me in the past, but last night she somehow got to me. Here's the video so you can see if you feel the same way.

I have to say that Kelly, quite unexpectedly, charmed my socks off.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I'm ALL About FALL!

The first day of fall finds me eager to embrace the crisp, clean air and spicy fragrance of my favorite season. Two grandiose pumpkins, keeping company with another simply splendid one, are already out in force on my front porch; and even though we are in the last throes of Indian summer, autumn has officially arrived. Today. I know, because I can feel it hovering just around the corner, waiting to surprise me with the kind of morning that makes me want to throw my arms wide and laugh out loud with the joy of it.

Besides the sights and smells of this season, I love the cyclical process it represents. Fall reminds me, in a most resplendent way, that every living thing comes full circle. It celebrates this truth unabashedly with harvest time and Thanksgiving, spreading the table for winter to bring nature's yearly denouement home to our hearts and minds, tempered by the unwavering Hope that is Christmas. I also love spring, the time of renewal, but it is autumn, somehow, that speaks most deeply to my soul.

What a wonderful world we live in, spinning around the sun and circled by that old harvest moon!

©2003 Susan Noyes Anderson, His Children, Vantage Point Press

All living things must yield;

the cycle is revealed.

A leaf, once green, turns brown

then, falling to the ground,

dissolves to fertilize

a seedling on the rise.

As rain becomes the dew,

so every end is new.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Enjoy the Ride!

sturdy seat

happy sigh

dangling feet

open sky

trees to meet

urge to fly

joy complete

riding high

life is sweet

heav'n is nigh

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Seeing is Believing? Or Deceiving?

Okay, I'm unable to resist telling the story of yesterday's post...both from an entertainment standpoint and a spiritual one. Let's start with the funny side of things.

This morning, just as I was racing out the door to avoid being late for 9 AM church, my eldest son called to say he'd been reading my blog. I love that he reads it so faithfully, but I was in a hurry. In fact, I was preparing to say a quick good-bye when he stopped me with a puzzling question. "Did you mean to put that video on your blog?" he queried. (Frankly, this seemed a rather silly thing to ask.) If I hadn't meant to post it, I wouldn't have, right? Uh...wrong.

Imagine my surprise when he informed me that what I'd actually posted was not quite the 50's circa Candid Camera fare I thought it was. Oh sure, the intended elevator prank was shown at the beginning, but merely as an introduction to what happened to be the rock video for a song called "Sheep to the Slaughter" by "A Perfect Circle." Believing I was posting the Candid Camera segment in its original form, I had published and attributed to Sheri Dew an MTV-style video that I am wildly guessing she would not have been particularly eager to use at Time Out for Women. (As a couple of the commenters alluded, it was pretty graphic in its depiction of sheep being slaughtered for market. Even if I had meant to post it, a warning of its explicit nature would have been in order.)

While I did notice that some people's comments (Carolyn's in particular) seemed a bit out of sync with the material as I (thought I) knew it, for reasons unknown to me, I subconsciously dismissed those little bits of cognitive dissonance...Until I received what I like to call Matt's phone call of doom and comeuppance, that is! Then I rushed over to my computer and actually clicked on the video so I could watch it, this time in its entirety.

Initially, I was somewhat dismayed but not dying over it. As many of you said, the video was disturbing, but not without a positive message...and it packed a pretty powerful punch. Sure, the people with the sheep heads on were a bit freaky, and there did seem to be a slight political agenda at one point, but I was doing a pretty good job of convincing myself that my video mistake (though unfortunate) wasn't as much of a fiasco as I'd assumed. That said, by the time the little lamb with a skeleton head rolled around, I was feelin' the cringe. As well as thinking to myself. "Oops, I've done it again." (Don't worry, I promise not to post Britney's video.) Neither will I ascribe it to a current or former church leader. heehee

In fact, future videos will be viewed in full before posting, and that's a promise. (Sorry, Sister Dew.)

Now for my spiritual thoughts on all of this:

It occurred to me that what transpired here is a perfect example of just what Sheri Dew meant when she said, "What you focus on determines what you see." I went to youtube looking for a video of men in an elevator, men I knew I would recognize. When I saw them, I felt like I had found exactly what I was looking for, and I didn't look past them to realize that this was not the video I was seeking. Despite the fact that the words "Sheep to the Slaughter (A Perfect Circle)" were clearly printed above the video for all to see, I saw only what I was focusing upon, the men in the elevator. Like those of us who watched the "basketball passing" video posted yesterday, I did not see the moonwalking bear(or evidence that this was a music video) (or the doomed sheep) at all.

How many ways does this principle play out in our lives? How many things do we look at and accept into our homes and families (and blogs!) without really seeing them as they are? This whole incident has definitely made me think.

Hey, a little redeeming value is always good, right?


PS. For those who thought the video, however graphic, was well done and made some powerful points, I want to say that I thought it had some definite merit, too. My regret lies in having accidentally attributed the wrong images to Sister Dew, as well as in having failed (however inadvertently) to provide a warning of the explicit nature of those images to readers who might have been disturbed by them. (In this case, my ignorance of the video I displayed was definitely NOT bliss.)

PPS. But I still have to laugh at myself.

(And I'm afraid my family will be joining me. I am NEVER going to hear the end of this one.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sheri Dew on Influence and How We Wield (or neglect to wield) It

Okay, here is the interesting object lesson Sheri Dew used to open her comments at Time Out for Women last night. (See, it's almost like you were there!) First, take a moment to watch the video she showed us:


Below is the considerably tamer version from Candid Camera that I thought I was showing you.

Sister Dew made the observation that we all have influence in this world, nearly unlimited influence. Her question, though, was thought-provoking: "Are we the influencer or the influencee?"

Object lesson #2: (Be sure to count how many passes the white team makes.)

Interesting, huh? This was meant to be an ad awareness test, but Sister Dew reframed it a bit by making this point: "What you focus on determines what you see." Her point is that if we focus on the world, we will not see the adversary and his antics. That's why we should focus on the Savior, not the world.

Good beginning, and from there she branched out to speak about disruptive strategies used by competing companies. (For example, iTunes has disrupted the record industry with its successful strategies.) Always ready with the question that takes things a level deeper, Sister Dew then asked 2,000 of her fellow women of God, "What disruptive strategies threaten us in this life?" She warned that the adversary is a master at using disruptive strategies to thwart us. The first of these is to get us confused about who we really are. The second is to make sure we never understand what the Savior actually did for us in atoning for our sins and pains (thereby not understanding what He can do for us now). And the third strategy used by Satan is to ensure that we never learn how to get information from the Lord so we don't know how to be warmed, taught, strengthened, and brought peace by and through Him.

Sister Dew then reminded us that the "noble and great ones" spoken of in D&C 138 and Abraham 3 are us, and if we are not convinced of that, she suggests that we kneel down and ask the Lord if those verses have anything to do with who we are. "You're here now because you're supposed to be here now (on earth)," she said. You were chosen for this time because you had what it takes to ensure that the Kingdom of God on earth will prevail. In other words, ours is the only dispensation that will not end in apostasy, and we have a calling to bring it home. After dropping that one on us, Sister Dew reiterated that "LDS women have nearly limitless influence." I think we all got the message.

What I took away is that we need to own that influence and use fulfill our missions here on earth and to help others fulfill theirs. "Shall we not go on in so great a cause?"

A good rallying cry, and a strong reminder of who we are and what the Lord needs (and expects) from us.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Time Out (not the toddler kind) for Women

Tonight and tomorrow I will be attending Time Out for Women, and I'm looking forward to everything but the drive. The keynote speaker this evening will be Sheri Dew, and she is my absolute favorite. When that woman speaks, I listen.

Her book, No Doubt About It, has been a source of inspiration for me, and I like to use excerpts from its wise and well-written pages to add that extra punch to talks and lessons. I even quote her in casual conversation. (Yes, sometimes I spout her words spontaneously.) The beauty is that I not only like what she says, but I love the way she says it.

S. Michael Wilcox will be speaking as well, but not until tomorrow. Has anyone ever listened to his talk, "When My Prayers Seem Unanswered?" He ended up making a CD inspired by that text, explaining what he calls the "Fourth Watch." If you haven't heard this one, get it, because it's scripturally sound and really makes you think about unrelieved periods of trial in a whole new way. One of the best I've ever heard.

And so my Friday night will be an enjoyable one. Hope yours is too!


Thursday, September 17, 2009

James Taylor at the Mountain Winery

James Taylor, from Covers and Other Covers CDs
(JT's own music > covers)

Mountain road leading to the venue

View from the top (a little hazy, still beautiful)

Empty, but not for long

Close-up of our bleacher seats, upper left
(not a bad view in the house)

Even better at night

On stage at the Mountain Winery

One more view (not our concert, but shows the place's charm)

So long to a beautiful spot, until the next time...

I love James Taylor, and I've seen him perform many, many times in many, many venues. This one is in the top two, for sure. What a beautiful, intimate setting for a concert. The weather was perfect, the crowd was friendly, and the air was sweet. (It got sweeter after JT started singing.)

Seriously, that man's voice hasn't lost a thing. In fact, I think it's improving with age (kinda like those grape products produced at the Mountain Winery). And he sang all the favorites, of course, including Fire and Rain (my personal choice), You've Got A Friend (by Carol King), Sweet Baby James, Secret o' Life, Carolina in my Mind, Mexico, Shower the People, and more. He also sang the best version of Steamroller I've ever heard him do (this guy can sing blues like few others) and favored us with old covers like Handyman and How Sweet It is and new ones like Roadrunner and Why Baby Why. I much prefer his own work, but anything Taylor sings sound good to me, even Hound Dog, which is saying a lot because I'm not a big fan of Elvis.

My theory is this: something about James Taylor's tone balances the chi. I mean it. That voice of his goes right to the core, and all is right with the world. Which is why his audiences are some of the happiest people you will ever sit next to...especially up in the beautiful mountains of Northern California.

Wish all of you could have been there.

Sure glad I was. =)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Whitney Houston: A Story of Redemption

Those of you who read my ramblings regularly know that Oprah and I are little more than nodding acquaintances these days. (Details here.) That's why it's surprising to note that I just watched Her Highness for two days straight, having carefully DVRd back-to-back shows with considerable interest and enthusiasm. Why? Because she was interviewing Whitney Houston, and I was deeply curious.

The truth is, when Ms. Houston initially came on the scene, I was only a casual fan. It wasn't until she sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl that I really took notice of her. After that stirring rendition, it only took her performance in The Bodyguard to seal the deal for me. I was won over completely, not just by her amazing voice, but with the spirit behind her use of it. She was a joy to hear (and watch), and I thought she was remarkable.

That's why it was almost painful to observe her downward slide over the past few years. Seeing the light in her eyes vanish by degrees was pretty tragic. After her last interview with Diane Sawyer, I wondered if she'd ever pull herself together again. I wouldn't have bet on it; that's for sure. But yesterday, her interview on Oprah looked like a story of redemption to me. And I was moved by much that my own tears surprised me.

The light was back in her eyes, and she looked beautiful. She sounded beautiful too, though her voice is not the high-flying, effortless soprano of old. Her instrument has changed, but she still knows how to use it well, and the tone is rich and full. What's more, she sings with her heart.

And she spoke to my heart as she told a tale of marital woe and drug addiction, but my emotions didn't rise to the surface until she began speaking of the return of a faith that literally saved her...and of a family's love so powerful that it sustained her. Family is where I live, and when her lovely daughter expressed deep affection and respect from her seat in the audience, it was clear to me that Ms. Houston has a wonderful life in store if she chooses to stay on the path she is walking now.

I can't know what her long-term outcome will be, of course. Drug addiction is not a foe you vanquish once and forever. Day-by-day effort and attention are required to maintain sobriety, and it is not an easy road.

But with God, nothing is impossible. And I am rooting for her.

(Here she is, singing on Oprah yesterday. Be sure to click off my playlist to the right.)
When they flash on Oprah's face, know that I feel your pain. What a drama queen she's become.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Outlet Shopping, Hold the Dropping

This jacket actually makes me look marginally sleek and slenderish.
(I know. It's a miracle!)

Not bad for a day's work, eh?
(Ryan is a good shopping partner. 'Twas he who found the jacket!)

I want to say that my second son and I shopped till we dropped at the outlets yesterday, but guess what? No dropping! In fact, nary even a near drop. Sore feet, yes. One low blood sugar episode, sure. (Overdid my insulin dose a bit, but a few lemon drops turned the tide.) And a stiff back toward the end of the evening was quickly remedied by dinner at Applebee's, which jacked up my blood sugar a little too much, thanks to a piece of sizzling apple pie that I should have resisted. (At least I didn't get the decadent-doesn't-even-begin-to-describe-it chocolate cake my son wolfed down!) But, oh, was I jealous! I bet that thing was 3,000 calories at least!! (Okay, true confessions. We shared the spinach and artichoke dip at the beginning of the meal, too.) I know. It's bad. And don't worry, Mom, I hardly EVER eat so many carbs. Honest. Extreme shopping makes a girl feel entitled to foods she would not otherwise consider. *sigh*

We did get LOTS of good stuff, though. I scored mostly Christmas presents for the fam and one very cute brown "swing" jacket for moi, but Ryan laid down a fair portion of his bonus for what amounted to nearly a new work wardrobe. Apparently, one of his main audits has gone "dressy," and He-Who-Loves-To-Shop made the most of it. (Banana Republic may have just recouped all of last year's losses!) Great deals, though.

Best of all, of course, was the company. How did I manage to get so lucky as regards my children? Whoever marries this guy is going to be constantly entertained; that's all I can say. And well cared for, too. (He was very cute with me during the blood sugar thing.)

All in all, it was a pretty glorious day.


Monday, September 14, 2009

On Being Still...and Mother Teresa

"We need to find God.

He cannot be found in noise

and restlessness.

God is the friend of silence.




and grass)...

grows in silence.

The stars

the moon

and sun

move in silence.

We need silence

to touch souls." - Mother Teresa

"Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalms 46:10).

This is one of my favorite scriptures, but I am not always good at it. I like Mother Teresa's images, because there is much to be learned from the forces of nature that surround us. When Christ quieted the wind and sea to calm His frightened disciples, He used the words, "Peace, be still." The sea quieted, and so did the winds. The sea and the wind know how to be still, and I am trying to follow their lead. These elements immediately obeyed the Savior's calming voice, yet His disciples did not. (Apparently, I am not the only one who has trouble with this!) Instead, these good men still "feared exceedingly." "What manner of man is this?" they wondered (Mark 4:41). Christ's disciples missed out on the peace that was offered so simply by listening to their minds instead of their hearts, intellectualizing about what had taken place rather than being still enough to know who God is and remember what He is capable of doing. The lesson here is that understanding life isn't always necessary. Sometimes all we need to do is believe, have faith, and be still.

When I think of these things, my husband's favorite scripture holds new meaning for me. "The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the midst of the power of God" (D&C 88:45). Sometimes, in my stillness, I can feel this majesty and symmetry in my own life.

And it is good.