Sunday, September 29, 2019

SPARKLES



  I come from a long line of cynics. On my mother’s side with low thyroid issues, we tend to be complainers. The glass is always half empty so we’re never satisfied that there’s enough to drink. On my father’s side with anger issues, we tend to be critical. The half empty glass isn’t clean enough to drink out of so we’re bitter that we’re still thirsty. Consequently, I’ve struggled most of my adult life with a gray outlook, like a dark sky with an occasional patch of blue. It took me years to figure out that persistently looking at life with the glass half empty was actually depression. I’ve struggled to see the positive things in my life, even when they were abundant. If things were going well for a time, I tried to savor the moment because I assumed it wouldn’t last. If it sounds like a dreary way to view life, it is! I’m a living (bad) example of how your attitude determines your altitude.
  I’ve been fortunate that no matter where I’ve lived, I’ve had a friend or two with a bubbly, positive personality. For them, the glass is always half full and the sky is always blue with only an occasional gray cloud. You know the type of person I mean because you’ve probably met a few in your life. If you’re really blessed, you were able to marry or parent someone who sparkles. They’re friendly, positive, and fun to be around. I’ve always wanted to be that kind of person, but since modern medicine hasn’t devised a personality transplant, I’m just grateful I’ve been able to associate with a few sparkly people. Their happiness is contagious, like a rising tide that lifts all the boats.
  I want to mention of few of these special souls, as a way of thanking them for their influence on my life. A friend who sparkles is worth hanging onto, so thank you, Paula Wiggins Jones, Christy Martschenko, Patti Maxwell, Torie Sue Jacobson, and Debbie Stahmann. There have been other good friends, but these five stand out to me as wonderful examples of the power of positive thinking. They are grateful for everyone and everything in their lives, and count every problem as a blessing in disguise. Skies always seem to be blue and cloudless when I spend time with them.
  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one man I was grateful to know who sparkled: Derek Davis. He was so positive that anyone who met him came away feeling uplifted. The little town I lived in has a 5K race every summer to honor his memory.
  I once heard Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President, Thomas S. Monson, speak at a BYU Women’s Conference. Something he said really stayed with me: Be sure your list of regrets is short. Sure, we all make bad decisions sometimes or lose our cool and have to apologize later, but regrets tend to shackle our progress if we view them as liabilities instead of lessons. Being negative is one of my biggest regrets. Negativity often distorted my view of opportunities and experiences. However, whenever I’ve shared anything on my regrets list with one of my sparkly friends, they’ve helped me to see my stumbling blocks as stepping stones. Here’s one example:
  In 2003, my husband and I adopted a ten year old boy from Thailand. At the time, we had five other children, ages twelve to three. We were completely blindsided by the challenges this boy brought to our family. We struggled for a year to parent him, but for the safety and well-being of the other five, we made the painful decision to disrupt the adoption. Another family who had more experience with our son’s overwhelming special needs offered to adopt him. We learned later that this troubled young man had RAD -- reactive attachment disorder. Any attempt to parent him, except by those with special training, would have been a disaster, as it was for us. I don’t mention his name at the request of his adoptive family.  
  During the dark year with our son, one person remained a ray of light for me: Torie Sue Jacobson. She buoyed me up when I felt weighed down. I don’t exaggerate when I say she kept me from losing my sanity that year. I had nothing to offer her except a litany of endless complaints, but she radiated positive energy, helping me focus on the things going well in my life, no matter how small. Torie’s family moved away the day before our son went to live with his new family. I felt like God sent her at this specific time because He knew I needed a sparkly friend.
  Yes, there’s a spiritual message woven into my ramblings: God knows each of us, individually. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, and often answers our prayers for help by allowing us to find someone to lighten our load. In my case, those answers have come in the form of friends who sparkle. Aside from naturally exuberant personalities on the outside, one thing they also have which makes them shine from within: a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They all have powerful testimonies of the Savior and follow His example in everything they say and do. I aspire to be a little bit like them by being grateful for my blessings and trying to focus on the positive things in my life. With my gray-sky outlook, it’s hard! I try to appreciate the little things, whether it’s a son who does the dishes without asking or a student at work who compliments me on my shoes, I’m learning to savor the little moments.
  My father (yes, the critic I mentioned earlier), who passed away thirteen years ago, often told me the best way to forget my own troubles was to serve someone else. He was a good example to me because he often stopped to help friends and strangers alike, even if it wasn’t convenient, or he was running late, or he didn’t have a dime in his pocket to assist them, he always made the effort. I need to do this more. I often feel bogged down in the day-to-day chores no one seems to notice at home. I try to look at what I do as serving my family. If I get a thank you or a hug once in a while, I try to feel grateful someone noticed.  
  While I know I’ll never manage to have a sparkly personality, I can attempt to shine a little bit, and maybe lift someone else. Jesus Christ was the perfect example of service, and when we serve others, somehow the sky seems a little bluer. The water in that half-empty glass tastes a little sweeter. I’m grateful for Him, and for the sparkly friends in my life who glow because they know and love Him. I appreciate their examples, and that they’ve been there for me when I needed a light to see my way.
Image result for blue sky with clouds
    

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

TAKE THAT TRIP -- IT'S WORTH IT



   
  I love to travel, and I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a family of wanderers, and marry into

a family that makes traveling a priority. While it’s a drag to sit for hours in airports, live out of a
suitcase, and deal with the stomach distress of strange foods, traveling is worth the expense and hassles. Flat tires, canceled flights, lost luggage, and seedy hotels are all part of the adventure. Seeing new places and experiencing new cultures is one of my favorite things to do.


  When I was very young my father was in the Army. I don’t remember much about living in Yorkshire, England, but I’m grateful my parents took the opportunity to see parts of Europe. I was also able to see different parts of the country living in Maryland, Utah, Michigan, North Carolina (east, west, and central), and the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. 

  As an adult, I’ve been able to travel with my husband for work to Honolulu, San Diego, Amsterdam, Beijing, and Orlando. We traveled internationally for adoptions to Hefei and Guangdong, China, and Bangkok, Thailand. When my brother’s family was stationed in Ramstein, Germany, we took the family to Europe to see London, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Trier, and we took a Rhine cruise. We’ve also been blessed to have family living in interesting places like Charleston, New Orleans (before Katrina), and Boston. 

  We lived outside of Washington, D.C., for four years, giving us access to incredible museums and national history. As a child and as an adult, I’ve been able to visit many church historical sites (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), resulting in some unforgettable trips to Palmyra, NY, Salt Lake City, UT, and Nauvoo, IL. Living most of my life in North Carolina, I’ve been to the beaches and mountains too many times to count.

  Now that we live in Utah, we’ve been to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. This month we’ll visit Arches and Zion National Parks when my mother-in-law comes to visit. Her travel résumé is twice as long as mine. At the young age of 83, she still plans trips all over the world. 

  Our bucket list for travel includes an Alaskan cruise, Scotland and Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Hawaii again, maybe with all of our adult children this time. Planning a trip gives you something to look forward to, a break from the mundane and the constant grind of work and life in general. I honestly don’t know how people can never travel outside their home states. There is so much to see, and it doesn’t cost a fortune if you plan ahead. 

 
What I’ve learned from a lifetime of travel:
1)    Don’t wait. Don’t put it off. If you have an opportunity to travel somewhere, go.
2)    Take the kids, no matter how young. Yes, it’s makes traveling more complicated, but being away from your young children can really put a damper on your enjoyment. And if they’re old enough to remember the trip, it will become a priceless memory for all of you.
3)    Venture outside your comfort zone. Some of the most breathtaking sites are well beyond the ‘tourist’ areas. In Beijing, we skipped the touristy section of the Great Wall and went to Mutianyu one weekend and Simitai the next. It was so worth the long drives and arduous climbs see unrestored, original parts of the Great Wall.
4)    Take your time. My husband Glen wants to see as much as possible and often makes long ‘to-do’ lists when we arrive someplace. Cut the list in half and take the time to appreciate what you can see. If you’re with children, cut the list in half again. To me, listening to Glen complain about what we might miss is a small price to pay for avoiding exhaustion. In London, the rest of the family went on strike after walking for miles along the Thames. We were tired and hungry but Glen wanted to keep walking, so we sat down on a bench and refused to go any further unless the next thing we saw was the nearest Tube station and the stop for our hostel.
5)    Don’t drink the water. This is true no matter where you travel. Yes, London tap water is safe, but don’t drink it. It’s not the same as the water in NC. Learned from painful experience, plus I missed a full day of sight-seeing in London.
6)    Be aware of your surroundings. If you travel abroad, be safe. Wear a money belt, don’t keep your wallet in your back pocket (or keep all your money in it -- use the hotel safe), tell the taxi-driver to set the meter (and be prepared to exit the cab if he won’t), say no to stranger’s offers to ‘give you a personal tour’ or ‘take a ride in my boat’ -- really, there are too many types of swindles to name them all. Keep your kids close, even in areas that seem family-friendly. Don’t be afraid to haggle over prices, especially in Asia, and don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel that they’re trying to take advantage of you because you’re a ‘rich American.’
7)    Learn a little bit of the language, just a few phrases like ‘where is the toilet?’ or ‘how much does it cost?’ can save you a lot of pantomiming and potential headaches.
8)    Respect the culture. It’s important not to offend the natives. Learn enough about their ways so you don’t lose your temper or make them lose theirs in certain situations.
9)    Take memorable pictures -- put yourself in them. Yes, the Eiffel Tower lit up at night is amazing (and worth the hour-long sweltering subway ride), but a photo of your family standing in front of it will mean more to you years from now.
10)  Keep a travel journal because someday you will forget what a wonderful time you had.   

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Overdue Blog Post: It's About Time (No, it really is about TIME)


  Image result for clocks and watches


  Life is crazy and I’ve been trying to think of a blog topic for weeks. Between substitute teaching, my church calling, and endless family drama (ask me about the tenant we evicted from our NC house -- no, on second thought, don’t ask), my writing has been on the back burner for months. I. Hate. It. I’ve been sewing quilts to feel like I’m accomplishing something. The only problem is that every time I go to the fabric store, I think of new quilts I want to sew, and the writing gets more neglected. Yesterday I sat down to read over the few chapters of Vesta Divided I wrote somewhere back in September, and drew a total blank on what I planned to write next. Even with the book’s detailed outline on a piece of paper next to my laptop. Help, someone kidnapped my muse, and I think the villain is Time.
  I’m convinced we are our own worst enemies when it comes to beating ourselves up over how we use our time. For example, the time I spend on Facebook since I signed up for it could have been used to write six novels by now. Instead I waste time online, arguing with strangers over Constitutional rights and posting photos of the quilts I’ve sewn. I know it’s a black hole for my time, but why do I spend hours on it?
  Why is time so easy to waste? When I’m at work, I want to be writing. When I’m doing housework, I want to be writing. When I’m reading or editing someone else’s work, I want to be writing. When I’m writing I want to be actually writing instead of moving commas around and changing my indent spacing.
  As a creature of habit, I have a few requirements that need to be in place for the writing muse to visit. You might call them excuses (you can omit ‘might’), but I’m not one of those authors who can write anywhere and keeps a daily word count goals. (NaNoWriMo? Get thee hence!) I must be at my desk, in front of a window, room temperature ideal, and no distractions. Which means if my family is at home, I’m not going to get much done.
  To be fair, I’ve trained my family not to talk to me when I’m at my desk. If the matter is urgent (like the house is on fire), they can interrupt after I look up from whatever I’m typing. For years my husband couldn’t understand why I got irritated by what he considered reasonable interruptions – “What’s for dinner?” “Who cares? Go away.” “Do we need to pick up (name of son) from work?” “By ‘we’ do you mean ‘me’? Go away.” – Until I painstakingly explained to him that stopping in the middle of a thought or sentence was maddening. “Can it wait? Then go away!”
  I consider writing the highlight of my life, so why isn’t the bulk of my time focused on it? Am I so distracted that I can’t rescue my poor muse and keep her safe in the land of no distractions? Don’t I want to finish my book? (Yes!) So what’s the problem?
  There’s a season for everything (cue music, “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds) and since I’m not in school (as a student), don’t have small children at home, don’t work full time, and am not in the middle of renovating my house (yet), I should have tons of time to write, right? How I envy authors who manage to crank out 5,000 words a day with small children, a full-time job, and a house renovation in progress! I should be the master of time, not its servant, so what to do?
  Getting off the internet would be a start. Keeping my phone in my purse where I can’t hear it beep when I get a text. Stop reading – that’s like saying “stop breathing” – but books are a distraction for me. Stop loading new ebooks onto my Kindle (staying offline would help with that issue). Delegating chores like meal preparation and laundry to my fully-capable adult sons would make life easier. The job I can’t cut back on, or the calling, and I can’t ditch my family (although sometimes I’d like to), but I can figure out where my time management goes off the rails and fill that void with writing.
  Guilt is never good motivation to get things done. If all we did was give, give, give, we would be hating life in short order. Yes, there are things we, as functioning adults, are obligated to do every day. But “take time to smell the roses” is important too. So some days I waste an hour or two reading, cooking something decadent (and eating it), painting my toenails, texting or having lunch with a friend, or staring out the window at the falling snow, but these selfish moments help recharge me for the next round of duties.
  As we get into the Christmas season, doesn’t it feel as if we have even less time to work with? Suddenly the calendar fills up and stress levels rise. I evaluated how I spend my time in December years ago and came to the conclusion that I would be happier if I gave up baking. Less cleaning the kitchen. Less weight gain. And since I’m off gluten, there’s no temptation lying around to be consumed. It’s a win-win because I feel less busy, less stretched. Christmas is about Christ, right? Not cookies.  
  So I’m done rambling – I think. My goal is to stop wasting time where I can and get back to writing. What will you do with your time? Is it your servant or your master?

 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Utah: A Transplant's Perspective




            Utah: Life Elevated – that’s the message on the license plates, but does it ring true for the people who live here? Having lived in hot and humid North Carolina for most of my life, the cross-country move to Utah last August took my family way outside our comfort zone. I’d been to Provo and Salt Lake City a few times, so my expectations for Logan were low. I was pleasantly surprised by the area. There is no other word to describe Logan except ‘beautiful.’
As an outsider, I was familiar with the stereotypical Utahan, who is LDS (Mormon), has a large family, an even larger garden, and always seems to be smiling. Many Utahans come from pioneer ancestries and the surnames reflect that heritage: Benson, Bingham, Eccles, Hansen, Jensen, Jorgensen, Larsen, Madsen, Marriott, McConkie, Monson, Mortenson, Olsen, Nelson, Petersen, Smith (got lots of those), Zollinger – and that’s just in my ward (LDS congregation), which covers four square blocks of my neighborhood. Contrast that to my former ward which covers fourteen square miles. All of our neighbors are Mormons like us. Is that cool, or is that kind of weird? Maybe a little of both. Here’s what I’ve observed about the natives:
Utahans love the outdoors, and who can blame them if you live in Cache County? It’s absolutely beautiful with rolling fields, Logan River, farms, mountains, Utah State University campus, and an old-fashioned downtown, crowned with the Tabernacle and the Logan Temple, which can be seen from almost any spot in the valley. Most Loganites (is that a word?) own an ATV, camper, boat, mountain bike, skis, or all the above. We live right at the mouth of Green Canyon, which is a beautiful place to bike and hike, and we’re just two miles from the mouth of Logan Canyon, which is spectacular year-round, and offers a forty-mile scenic drive to Bear Lake, which is also gorgeous. Did I mention this place is beautiful?
It’s true about the big gardens. Most residents have one, plus fruit trees, and some have chickens. And we’re not talking about farms – we live in the suburbs. These are backyard gardens that are kept green with ‘water shares’ – another Utah quirk. It’s dry here so the pioneers took advantage of the snow-capped mountains, moving the melt waters down into the valley for the spring and summer. Logan has lots of canals, and most houses can tap into them for irrigation water.
Let me mention the houses because they’re all different. I come from an area of cookie cutter neighborhoods with militant HOAs that must be appeased to paint your shutters a different color, and they send you stern letters if you leave your garage door open for ten minutes. There’s none of that in Logan unless you want to pay a premium to live in a fancy neighborhood up the mountainside (called ‘the benches’ in Utah-speak). Logan is a hodge-podge of architecture. If you find a spot of land to build on, you can build whatever type of house you want, and people have been doing it for 150 years. Brick ranches sit next to Craftsmen, with a smattering of modern, farmhouse, and what-were-they-thinking houses. It’s never boring. People often sell the back portions of their long lots so there are interesting newer houses built behind old homes on ‘flag lots.’ There are no two houses alike, which is refreshing when you come from cookie-cutter.
And you can never get lost! The numbered grid street layout is unique to Utah, although I think parts of Idaho and Arizona do it too. It’s so easy to find your way around. Sure there are streets with names, but you have to pull out Google maps to find them. Once you know where you are on the grid, it’s easy to find your way around. And it’s no exaggeration that there are LDS chapels on every block. We can walk to our church building, even in winter. It’s only two blocks from our front door.
Speaking of houses – most Utahans have a unique room in their basements (everyone has basements!) called ‘cold storage’. This is where the suburban farmers store their food. All those lovely cherries, apricots, peaches, pears, green beans, tomatoes, corn – Loganites have to do something with them, so they’re canned for later. Most cold storage rooms also have a bin for potatoes. Potatoes are inexpensive since we’re so close to Idaho, but these spuds are nothing like the fist-size ‘Russets’ you buy at Walmart. These are the size of footballs. Two are all you need to make mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner. Utahans love to grow, freeze, can, and otherwise preserve their own food. Being self-sufficient isn’t just a lofty goal here, Utahans take it seriously. Ever heard of a ‘case lot’ sale? This is when the grocery stores sell canned goods cheap, by the case. We like our cold storage rooms, and we prefer to keep them full.  
Speaking of cold, let me be the first to say I love the weather here. Yes, we get snow. Lots of it. Unlike NC, where a dusting shuts down everything for days, Utahans adapt well to snow. We shovel the driveway and get on with our lives. The summer is shorter, but that’s a good thing. The air is dry so it’s actually difficult to work up a sweat – unlike NC, where you sweat anytime you step outside the air conditioning from April to October. Here, we run the AC maybe ten days the entire summer. It cools off at night so we leave the windows open and enjoy the night air. Did I mention there are very few bugs? Yes, I relish the long snowy winter because it means no mosquitoes!
Let me get back to my original thought: Life elevated. The people here are genuinely friendly to LDS and non-LDS alike. They make great neighbors. There is little crime (I can only speak for Logan – I know the rest of Utah isn’t perfect.) Even if you’re not LDS, you might appreciate the temples that dot the state. Each is unique, beautiful, and important to the LDS faith. I’ve only been inside a few but hope to visit them all. The temple is the pinnacle of our faith, and I urge you to attend any temple open house so you can see inside the House of God before it’s dedicated. (After dedication, only members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in good standing can enter the temple.) The covenants we make in the temple are sacred, not secret. To me, ‘life elevated’ is reflected in the spires of the temple, to know that families can be together forever.
Enjoy the journey. Look to God and live. I could say a lot more but I know I’m rambling at this point. I’m thankful we moved to Logan, Utah. It has elevated our life in ways we couldn’t have imagined. This NC transplant is very happy here.