Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tonight's Halloween Highlights

Tonight was Halloween!  This was our third in this neighborhood, a neighborhood known for getting MANY trick-or-treaters.

2010...around 600


2012...565--I have to admit, we were a little bit disappointed.

We had 800 pieces of candy at the ready, lights on, spooky music coming out of the speakers, and decorations.  The normal 7-8pm rush was a little slower this year.  And less big groups.

Here are some highlights:

Most Observant Kid:  "You have a No Soliciting sign...are we allowed to ask for candy?"  This kid was also dressed as a vending machine.

Most Frequent Lines:  "Your house is huge!"  (The skylights make it look bigger than it is from ground level.)  "Can I pet your dog?"

Cutest Little Kid Line:  "Have fun trick-or-treating!"  (???)

Most Annoying Kid:  The little girl whose mother was holding her bag, and who came up and started to take the piece of candy right out of my hand.  No "trick-or-treat," no "thank you," nothing.  

Yearly Hilarious Repeat:  When a kid looks through our mail slot.

Most Creative Candy Holder:  The girl who was dressed up as a UPS delivery person and was holding all of her candy in a UPS box.

Line We Never Actually Used as Kids, But They Do Now:  "Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!"  Good grief...

Most Frequent Little Kid Costume:  Spiderman and Batman

Most Frequent Big Kid Costume:  Cheerleader and Scream

Best Parent Costume:  Sigfried (or Roy)...a dad was dressed like one of them and had a huge, stuffed white tiger around his shoulders.  

And, as usual, we used discretion about which kids got which candy.  Polite little kids got the good chocolate.  Teenagers with a sticker on their cheeks, or just wearing sweats and holding out a pillow case, got Laffy Taffy and Bottle Caps.

We believe that when you spend $100 on Halloween candy, you get to set up some rules. That's fair, right?

Once again, our neighbors across the street had their pre-Halloween night party.  There were yummy soups, meatballs, and appetizers.  It is also the one time per year that we see the former owners of our house and hear what they think of the changes we've made over the last 12 months.  Hubby had to work until 5pm, so I still made him dinner.  We ate in the dining room and took turns answering the door and taking a tally of how many kids came to our house.

So, even though our numbers were down, we still had a fun night.  And even though it takes weeks to prepare enough candy for the trick-or-treaters, I love that we get so many each year.

And now, on to the next holiday!  Turkey, anyone?

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Excluded...We're All Included

There are few things that can cause hurt feelings more than feeling excluded.  Especially for women.  You go through the gamut of emotions and questions, "What did I do wrong?"  "Did I make that person angry?"  "Am I not good enough to be a part of that group?"  I know, it sounds so middle school, but these feelings exist well into adulthood.

I had the pleasure of going through this very recently.  Let me tell you, it isn't fun.  But you probably know that because it has happened to all of us.  And if it hasn't, it will.

Being relatively new to this state, this neighborhood, and this ward, I'm in the middle.  I've been here longer than a few people, but a lot of my friends have lived here most of their lives.  As a social being without many social outlets, being included and embraced has been very important to me.  And, for the most part, I have been.  Which made this particular incident all the more of an ouchie moment.

Like I said, it has happened to all of us, and it bites.  The thing is, what do you do next?

In the same way that loss has its steps of grief, so does being excluded.  See if these sound familiar:
1.  Confusion
2.  Hurt
3.  Anger
4.  Sour Grapes
5.  Retaliation
6.  Shame
7.  Common Sense
8.  Forgiveness
9.  Peace
10.  Moving On

Wow, that is a lot of steps.  I went through all of these last night between 11:30pm to 2:30am.  If I had been smarter and less sensitive, I probably could have moved through them quicker, but I think everything was heightened because of the late hour.  In retrospect I'm a little ashamed that I allowed myself to feel as hurt as I did (and believe me,  I was pretty hurt.)

At some point, between Steps 5&6, I went looking for something to put me at ease.  Hubby was already asleep with an early morning ahead.  I didn't want to disturb him.  So I went to the Church Website and, like a dope, typed in "hurt feelings" in the search window.  Scriptures, talks, and articles on Forgiveness came up.  What?  I didn't want to forgive, I wanted sympathy.

And then it clicked.  We never have control of external situations that happen to us, but we always have control of how we handle them internally.  This was my opportunity.  Either stay stuck in Hurtful Mode, or move past it to Healing Mode.

One article I read was called Finding Peace Through Forgiveness.  Another was called Of You It Is Required to Forgive.  Both of them gave me a lot to think about.  They made me feel that, although my hurt was real, it was also petty.  These articles were talking about forgiving people who had caused enormous, life changing events, like murderers.  Good grief, if someone could forgive something like that, then I could certainly forgive not being included in a little get-together.

The bottom line?  These things happen.  They stink, but they happen.  And not knowing someone's motives or knowing the whole story doesn't mean either of you did anything wrong.  The healthiest thing is to let it go.  You can have your pity party, but don't let it eat away at you.  For all I know, my exclusion may have been an innocent oversight.  It doesn't matter.  It's small, it's over, and I'm not going to let it affect any friendships.  I don't want to be that kind of person.

Steps 7-10.  Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

My Friend, Barbie

I am so proud of my friend, Barbie, who was profiled on her local Utah TV station.  We have been friends since we were at BYU--over 20 years ago--and sang together in a group in Salt Lake City.  She may be blind, but she is far from "disabled."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Moments That Matter Most

"Strength comes not from frantic activity, but from being settled on a firm foundation of truth and light." Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf

This is one of several profound thoughts shared in this short, but powerful video.  Do we channel our energy into the things that matter most?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stephen Fry in America

For the past couple of days, Eric and I have been enjoying a 6-part documentary called Stephen Fry in America.  Most people in the US don't know who Stephen Fry is--their most recent exposure to him is as Sherlock Holmes' brother in the Robert Downey, Jr. movies--but in the UK he is quite famous as a comedian, actor, and writer.

We didn't quite know what to expect from a series whose host visits all 50 states, but it turned out to be very enjoyable.  It is interesting to see how a person from another country views America.

Fry does not go to the normal tourist traps and places you would expect him to visit.  Well, sometimes he does, but usually not.  For instance, Los Angeles, Disneyland, and San Diego make no appearances at all when he visits California.  But he does visit Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Some states get more air time than others.  Each 1 hour episode has a theme, such as "the True West," "the Mississippi," "the Deep South," or "the Pacific."  And, while his choices of what he focuses on and where he visits may seem odd, they are always fascinating.  Standing at nearly 6'5", Fry is an imposing figure, and his size alone can create comic results.  He also has a very open and inquisitive mind.  From Ted Turner at his ranch in Montana to the homeless in Detroit, he treats each person he meets as someone with a story worth sharing,

For the most part, this is a very G-rated series, with a few PG moments.  A few of his subjects are people who live on the fringe of society with either dark religious beliefs or questionable morals, but most of them are not.  No matter what their circumstances, everyone he visits with are proud to call themselves Americans.  Besides seeing some unforgettable scenery, the viewer is also reminded of the many qualities that create the tapestry of our nation.

(This series is available on Netflix Instant Streaming.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

My Elsie Book

Have you ever finished a book that you enjoyed so much that you wanted to tell everyone about it?  That is how I feel about Elsie: Adventures of an Arizona Schoolteacher.  I felt such a connection to this sweet young woman that she seemed a kindred spirit.  I was also amazed at our similarities. 

I go into more detail on my book review site HERE.  If you are a teacher, a woman, or someone looking for a charming read, this is the book for you.

Friday, October 12, 2012

A Rainy Friday-the First of Many...

Well, it has happened.  Summer is officially over.  Not because of any declarations on a wall calendar, but because of the persistent rain outside.  The life-long residents, with their internal barometers, promise that the weather usually turns the week before Halloween.  This year we had a late summer and now an early fall.  Yay (weakly.)

It's drippy and gloomy and slightly mocking outside.  It smells musty and not particularly attractive.  The likelihood that it will let up enough for a quick walk with the dog seems slim.  Sigh.  I'm not really prone to S.A.D. (Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder,) but it the summer was beautiful and over too quickly.  Now it is back to layers, wet feet, and the eternal query: to take an umbrella, or to not take an umbrella?  That is the question.

It also means that the holiday season is not far away.  Halloween decorations in closets are waiting to be displayed.  Tomorrow, I think. Christmas plans need to be made, which I am putting off because Eric has to work every major holiday in the next few months. 

There is one place to escape to right now.  Any guesses? 

Into the world of a good book.  I'm nearly finished with my "Elsie" book, having just passed the tragic news about the young man smitten with her.  Two other books, both promising, wait in the wings. 

And today is my mom's birthday.  We have a FaceTime date later so I can watch her open our card and present.

So go on, Rain.  Give us your worst.  A good day awaits.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Wave

Last night Eric and I decided to have an indoor date night, ordering take-out and watching a movie.  With full tummies after watching a silly movie, we skimmed through our Netflix streaming queue where I had included a German film called The Wave.  I had been curious about it because it reminded me of an American TV special I had seen years ago.  We decided to watch it, remaining transfixed for the next 90 minutes.

The premise of both films is the same.  They are based on a true story of an experiment led by a high school teacher in Palo Alto, California in 1969.  The subject was fascism and autocracy.  While learning the basics, the students were incredulous of how any group of people could allow themselves to become a part of something so monstrous and so damaging. 
What the students didn't know was that they were ripe for an experiment.  Think back to high school, where we were all trying to establish our own identities, and yet, what we wanted most was to belong to something.  Cliques were at their strongest as we were all growing together.  It is a double-edged sword, and the teachers used it to their full advantage.  In both the 2010 German and 1981 American versions, the teachers began the experiment slowly, talking about "strength through discipline," encouraging straight posture, and the simple rule of standing before speaking.  Next came the symbol, giving the students a chance to feel like they were part of something bigger, and then the salute.  As both films progress, the teachers see that the experiment is taking on a life of its own, sometimes with scary results.

Both films focus on specific students and how the Wave movement affects them, primarily a teenage couple where the girl is having doubts, and a misfit boy who is feeling a sense of belonging for the first time in his life.

Where the films diverge is in their endings.  In the German film, the teacher completely loses control of the experiment.  In the American version, the teacher gathers the students at a rally to hear their "national leader" for the first time.  Well, you can guess who that is.  I, personally, think the American version has a better ending.  It isn't as intense, but it is more satisfying as the experiment's conclusion. I have not yet read the book, but it is on my reading list, and when I do I'll know which film's ending is more factual.  But for its ending, shorter length, and kid-friendly approach, I would recommend the American version.  In fact, I think every student should see it.

One of the things I found most interesting in both films happens when the students are outside of class and talking amongst themselves.  They talk about the Wave's "cause" and what the movement is trying to accomplish, a true testament to the teachers' manipulation of the groups, because neither of them ever revealed an actual cause or goal.  The students were simply lost in their feelings of superiority.  They didn't completely understand what was happening to them, but they did know that they liked it.  So much so that they were willing to trade their freedom, individuality, and former belief systems.

In the end, it is a lesson for all of us at any age.  Clubs, religions, groups, social status, education levels, patriotism, political parties--all of these can have wonderful results for ourselves and others. But taken to extremes, where we begin to use these things as excuses to hurt, shun, exclude or ignore others is something we must be careful to avoid.  We can deny it all we want, but as humans, the potential power of the Wave exists in all of us.  It is our personal responsibility to keep it buried where it belongs.
(The pictures above are both links.  The photo of the German film takes you to its trailer.  The photo of the American film takes you to YouTube, where you and your family can see it in its entirety. It is a film worth watching and discussing together if you feel your children can handle the subject-matter.) 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sunday General Conference--My Impressions

This afternoon marked the end of 4 sessions of General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  I'm happy to say that I watched all 4 sessions live and in their entirety.  Although I watched them alone, I didn't feel alone, because I thought of the millions of people around the world who were doing the same thing: resting from their labors and focusing on the messages imparted over these last two days.

I took more copious notes this time than ever before, but I will not do another blog like yesterday.  Instead, I look at the notes I took and am thinking about ways that I can improve.

The messages at conference are simple.  Sometimes they are even repetitive.  We heard a lot about Peter at this conference, and how even the Lord's senior apostle needed to be reminded about where to turn his attention and focus.  After denying Jesus three times on the eve of the crucifixion, the resurrected Lord asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Three times Peter said yes.  Yet when he was asked this he was back to his old ways and using his time for fishing instead of carrying on the Lord's work.  This came from Elder Holland's talk this morning, a reminder that saying it is not enough.  We all have a responsibility, especially if we have been baptized and have committed ourselves to God.

Elder Hales carried on this theme, reminding that world that, yes, Mormons are Christians, but asking those of the Mormon faith, "What kind of Christians are we in our quest to follow God?"  Again, saying it is not enough.  We must live it, love it, share it.
I thought about this especially during the afternoon session.  During the morning session I had allowed myself to get distracted a number of times, doing activities (like laundry) within earshot of a couple of talks and hearing but not listening.  How often do we do that?  I knew it was not the right thing to do, and yet I did it anyway.  How often do we do THAT?

Elder Packer, and many others, focused on the Atonement and its role in all of our lives.  Many of the speakers reached out to those who are feeling lost, forgotten, offended, or perhaps feel that their decisions have led them down a path from which they can never return.  The happy truth is that anyone can come back from the depths of despair and darkness if they humble themselves and embrace the blessings that await us.  And because so many talks were also on the importance of service and loving our fellow man, we can also become the instrument by which God answers someone else's prayer.  I cannot think of anyone I would rather work in tandem with than the Lord.

I have a special soft spot for Elder Richard G. Scott.  Consistently over the years, his talks have messages that touch me deeply and pinpoint specific things I need to do better.  Today he talked about temple work and family history.  Although I have done more family history and indexing this year than any other, my activity has waned in the recent months.  Summers in Washington bring such beautiful weather, and are such a respite from the preceding rainy months, that the last thing I want to do is sit at the computer transcribing genealogical data.  But the time has come to start it up again.  I remember the feeling when I did it before and knowing that I was one little worker bee in a very important, universal work.  Yes, I definitely need to start again.

But my favorite quote from today is from the prophet, President Thomas S. Monson.  It is simple in its delivery and yet powerful in its message:  The Lord is always on our side if we do what is right.

And the amazing thing is that most of us KNOW what is right.  Yet we challenge what we know, hoping to prove that other, easier options are better.  This can relate to morality, chastity, family interactions, honoring the Sabbath, honoring our callings in the Church, standing up for what is right and righteous, using clean language, and reaching out to others who are in our proximity and obviously in need.  I, in my very imperfect self, have challenged some of these. Not because I didn't already know what was right, but because I was feeling a little rebellious, lazy, selfish or apathetic.  I will tell you from personal experience that challenging what we know to be right and true does not bring any kind of lasting happiness.  Why?  "Because the Lord is always on our side when we do what is right."

Like yesterday I will include the link to the conference sessions:

If I could recommend 2-3 talks from today if you are not a member of the Church, I would recommend the Sunday morning talks by Elder Holland and Pres. Monson, and the afternoon talk by Elder Bednar.

I'm going to do one more thing here, and that is pay homage to some of the beautiful music that was shared.  In particular, a hymn that I have just heard recently called "Weary Not," which the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed today and in August at a program honoring President Monson's birthday.  The words and the melody are just beautiful.

Again, my cup is full and my heart is very grateful.  It is a feeling I hope to share with anyone reading this.  Happy Sunday, everyone.  Enjoy the music below:

WEARY NOT (click link)  Words below:

If the way be full of trial, weary not;
If it's one of sore denial weary not;
If it now be one of weeping,
There will come a joyous greeting,
When the harvest we are reaping, weary not;

Do not weary by the way
Whatever be thy lot
There awaits a brighter day
To all, to all who weary, weary not

If the way be one of sorrow, weary not;
Happier will be the morrow, weary not;
Here we suffer tribulation,
Here we must endure temptation,
But there'll come a great salvation, weary not;

If misfortunes overtake us, weary not;
Jesus will never forsake us, weary not;
He will leave us never, never,
From His love there's naught can sever,
Glory to the Lamb forever, weary not;

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Saturday General Conference--My Impressions

This morning and this afternoon I had the privilege of watching the Saturday sessions of General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  What made this time extra special was that this is the first time since I joined the church in 1986 that I was able to watch it live, on my own TV.  That may seem odd, considering that  I've been a member since I was 15, but in the past I have either not had cable, or internet, or was traveling, or was just disinterested and/or inactive.  As nice as it is to watch it on the computer or the iPad, sitting down in a comfortable chair and giving the speakers my full focus is even better.

For those who are unfamiliar with what General Conference is, it is a twice-yearly event when the leaders of the church address us on various topics.  We get a chance to hear from our prophet, Pres. Thomas S. Monson, and other men and women who are called to church leadership positions at this time.  Listening to the conference is open to anyone of any faith and belief. In fact, it is an excellent introduction to the LDS church.

As always, there were uplifting stories of faith which were shared.  But the marvelous thing about General Conference is that the church leaders have a gift for bringing current things to our attention, especially ways that we can better our lives, perhaps make changes that need to be made, and how to be "in the world but not of the world."  They also often talk about struggles that are endured by many in this fast-paced life we lead, the things of worldly acceptance that are in conflict with Gospel teachings, and what to do when certain events in our lives might make us consider destructive paths.
I noticed some running themes today, which are making an appearance more and more often in recent conferences:
  • The importance of the family unit.
  • The importance of parents being living examples to their children and establishing rules and traditions for them.
  • The importance of using the internet--and the vast amount of information available to us--responsibly.
  • The importance of remembering that, although the Gospel is perfect, men are not, which means that even leaders are fallible; but also remembering that we should not put our faith in man.
  • The importance of service to others, and how "service is the very definition of pure religion," as Elder Ballard stated in his talk.
  • The importance of remembering what do to when we have trials in our lives, that these are not the times to blame God or turn our back on Him. As Elder Andersen stated, "With faith come trials of faith, bringing increased faith."
Here are some of my favorite moments:
  • Elder Uchtdorf talked about how some of us wear our "busy-ness" like badges of honor, while also noting that the three things people at the end of their lives often wish is 1) that they had spent more time with the people they loved, 2) that they had become the person they were meant to be, and 3) that they had allowed themselves to be happier.  He reminded us that life is not meant to be appreciated only in retrospect and that it is most important to become the person that God wants us to be.
  • Elder Perry talked about building a culture in our homes, one that can insulate our children from worldly cultures, like the cultures of celebrity, entitlement, and media violence.
  • Elder Ballard made some wonderful comparisons of humans to honey bees, and just like the bees whose lifetime donation of honey is only 1/12 of a teaspoon, we can look for service opportunities and help to "pollinate the world" with Christian kindness.
  • Elder Whiting drew comparisons of the temples to our own bodies, both made of the finest materials, both prone to defects if we lower our standards, and the importance of making the necessary improvements so that the Lord can dwell within us.
  • And Elder Oaks gave a very powerful talk, addressing the parents of the church and of the world, reminding them to think of their children and what effects all family decisions and family behavior will have on them.
I will add the disclaimer that these are are small, simple paraphrases of some poignant talks from today.

There is something else I would like to address.  And that is, that although I do not subscribe to the idea of "blind faith," I do think that when we sustain our Church leaders we are putting a certain amount of trust and faith in them.  Speaking as someone who was inactive for 10 years and has wrestled with the idea of "cherry picking" through modern revelation, I think we have to be careful about listening to General Conference with a filter, critiquing and judging what is being said.  I say this because I saw someone do this online today and it was very disheartening.  I have learned and accepted through a lot of prayer and soul-searching that what is being presented is what we, as modern-day members of the Church (and the world,) need to hear.  Certainly not every talk is directed at every person, but the principles of faith, humility, prayer, service, and love are certainly embedded in every talk, regardless of the subject.

If you are reading this and you are not of the Mormon faith, I challenge you to listen to at least one talk from today's conference.  All are uplifting, all were prepared in the spirit of love, and all of them have universal themes from which anyone can benefit.  Here is the link:  (at the time I'm publishing this post, some of the talks from the afternoon session have not been made available to listen to individually yet) I would recommend the talks from Elder Ballard or Elder Nelson to start.  Tomorrow at 9am and 11am Pacific time, two more sessions of Conference will take place.  They are available to watch at, on BYUtv, or the Mormon channel.  The 2 latter sources are also available for instant streaming through the Roku player or Apple TV.

I will leave with this thought, and that is my spiritual cup is very full today after hearing the words at conference.  I hope yours will be too.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Our Trip to the Portland Art Museum


On Tuesday Eric and I decided to do something a little different on his day off.  I had wanted to visit the Portland Art Museum for a couple of weeks and so off we went.  Being from the Pasadena area of California, I will admit that I am a little spoiled.  We have the wonderful Norton Simon Museum which, although not large, has an incredibly versatile and impressive collection.  We also have the LACMA, the MOCA, and the Getty, but the Norton Simon is my favorite. Happily, there were sections of the Portland Art Museum that reminded me very much of the Norton Simon.

Not knowing our way around, we actually ended up in the areas with modern and contemporary art first.  I will admit, that this style is not my favorite.  As a Humanities major at BYU-Provo I had many art history classes on different styles and periods and after all of them, I still enjoy the Impressionists the most (Renoir above all) as well as older, classical styles.  I love bright colors, creative uses of light and light sources, and differences in textures, like metal, lace, velvet, and flesh.

Here are some of my favorites from our visit: (I highly encourage you to click on the pictures to see them in larger sizes...)
I love portraits like this one:  "Madame de Pompadour."

One of Monet's many water lily paintings is exhibited there.

Wonderful textures of the different fruits, petals, containers, and the marble counter.

One of my absolute favorites of the day "Nature's Fan," which shows either a young mother or sister fanning a cherubic child with a handful of leaves.  This picture does not do it justice, because the way the artist shows the flesh and veins on the hands and feet is just exquisite.

This was another one I really liked, which shows a Spartan woman giving her son a shield before he leaves.  I could see myself choosing this one to write about in a college class.  You can see the mother's worry, trying to be brave as she sends her oldest off to war.  Perhaps she is already a widow.  There is a lot of subtext to this piece.

And it was thrilling to see a very famous Renoir piece in person. 
 Once in a while a modern piece will captivate me.  Both Eric and I were amazed at this sculpture called "The Dishwasher."  My first glance at it was coming down a flight of stairs and, thinking we were alone, I was about to say something to him.  Then I saw this man sitting down out of the corner of my eye and, convinced he was real, stayed silent.  We were both dumbfounded as we approached and realized it was a sculpture.  It is incredibly life-like...
I don't know what the piece weighs, but you can feel the weight, the tiredness, and the hours of exhaustive physical labor in the subject's posture and expression.

I was most impressed with his hands.  Looking at this photo alone, would you ever guess that this is not a real person?

Here are some other modern pieces that we really liked:
Made from a collection of tiles, this mosaic-type piece shows the atom bomb in mid-explosion.

When you approach it, you see the tiles are sometimes ears, skulls in different positions, dominoes, brick walls, etc.  A very interesting, thought-provoking piece.

Impressive in its realism, this painting shows wonderful details in shadow, reflection, perspective, and even the oil stains on the pavement. You feel like you are looking through a window into the past.

Again, it was the details that I liked about this sculpture.

A hat?  A spine?  No, a stack of figures in crouched positions one on top of the other.  It is odd, but you can't stop looking at it...

I just loved the use of color in this piece.

One of my favorites of the modern pieces, a self-portrait of the artist.  We are forced to make eye-contact him, and that is what I like about it.

And, of course, there are the pieces that just create a series of questions, such as "what is art?"

This one showed the sun going down repeatedly, while playing audio from "Apocalypse Now." 
Of course, art itself, in any form is supposed to make you reflect and feel and remember it.  I would say that all of the pieces above were successful in doing that, so much so that days later, I am still thinking about them.

We had a lovely day, the weather was absolutely perfect--although windy--and we concluded our Portland trip with a late lunch at Jake's Grill.  I'm looking forward to another trip to the museum and a chance to revisit what we saw and ponder them again in person.