Friday, July 9, 2021

07.09.2021 -- Olivia, Opera and Wrinkles

Because of Olivia, I was exploring opera online with our little one recently (Remember how she dreams of being an opera singer?) We went down the rabbit hole watching these amazing singers. Like Maria Callas...

When people ask "What kind of music do you like?" I used to say "Most things--just not death metal and opera." But watching these artists perform on video has changed that for me. It actually shifted that night laying in bed with Lena. It really makes me sad that I never got to see my cousin perform. She studied opera in college. 

We went way past her bedtime watching opera. When we came across a video of a young soprano (Katherine Jenkins) performing with an older mezzo-soprano (Cheryl Baker) singing the very famous Flower Duet


I sensed it was a good time to talk to Lena about age. Sometimes kids can be a little reluctant to interact with someone who is older who looks different than the younger people they're usually around.

Me: This singer is a little older. She looks a little different, right? Sometimes when people get older, they get some wrinkles. Sometimes they have lots of wrinkles! I think lots of the best people have lots of wrinkles, don't you?

Lena: Looking up at me, adoringly as she strokes my face. Yes, Mom, they do.

Me: (Wow. She means me.)

Thursday, July 8, 2021

07.08.2021 -- Polished Rocks

When she was 5, our daughter, Lucy, was fascinated with rocks. It got to the point where her rock collection had to be moved outside and became her rock garden. For her birthday, she asked for a rock polisher. That seemed like a good idea―a nice way to pass the time and learn a few things. Plus, polished rocks are beautiful.

Even when I looked into it and saw the price, I went ahead. They aren’t cheap!

When Lucy opened the polisher, we were all a little disappointed. I think I was expecting a machine where you dropped a rock in and, after going through a lot of spinning brushes and it would come out polished in a few seconds. 

For those of you who don’t know, a rock polisher is a system that slowly rolls a can with a tight fitting lid. It was a really expensive rolling can.

What polishes rocks is other rocks. You can add some things to help the process, but really, it’s just rocks knocking tiny bits off other rocks until they’re smooth.

Polishing rocks can take as little as one week, or as long as two months. You plug in the tumbler and the can rolls constantly. 24/7. There are a lot of little things that make a difference, but basically, you just let the rocks roll around and until they make each other smooth. That’s a lot longer than the few seconds I had imagined.

What a lovely metaphor.

In “Tested, Proved and Polished,” Henry B. Eyring says that the purpose of the Creation of this world was “to give [God's] children the opportunity to prove themselves able and willing to choose the right when it is hard. In so doing, their natures would be changed and they could become more like Him.” I agree with him.

I believe that we are here on Earth to be changed―to become more selfless, more compassionate, more courageous and more loving--like Jesus Christ. We’re here to have our edges knocked off― to have opportunities to choose the right when it is hard. Every time we respond to a hard situation with a good choice, we're polished a bit more. 

There are all kinds of discomforts and trials that provide us with polishing opportunities. Sometimes we’re tired and didn't eat anything but Cheez-it crackers for lunch and our sister is standing too close--so close you can feel her breathing on you. 

Lots of times, we’re asked to do things we don't want to do. Jobs are lost. Money is tight. Families come apart. Our bodies hurt. Our hearts hurt. We don’t feel good. We get lonely. We watch other people who seem to have no troubles at all and it doesn’t feel fair.

Each time we face hardship, light, heavy, or crushing, we have a chance to become a little smoother. A little kinder, a little more faithful, more loving, more forgiving and confident in Him.

There are a couple of points I wanted to make about lapidary. Did you know that the word for a person who polishes rocks is the same as the word for the action of polishing rocks? So, two points about lapidary: 

  1. You need to know your rocks. 
  2. The process transforms them.

1. All rocks are not the same. A good lapidary knows agate is different than jasper. quartz is different than feldspar. It matters what rocks you put together. A good lapidary knows that an unpolished rock often starts out looking very different than a polished one.

Last weekend, our four year-old, Lena, and I were waiting to watch Lucy complete in a cheerleading competition. It had been a long day. There was a lot of standing in lines that barely moved. To pass the time, we’d been playing hide and go seek, but we needed to switch it up. Lena noticed the little rocks in the flower beds and made up a hiding game. She would show me a few rocks in her hand, then I would turn around and she would hide them―in the other rocks. I had a really, really hard time finding those rocks. They all looked the same to me--but Lena found them easily. 

She knew exactly where each one was.

Sometimes, I think, we feel unnoticed and overlooked like a pebble in a handful of gravel. But our Father in heaven knows us. He knows exactly where we are.

2. Polishing changes a rock―but it changes it by refining what’s already there, not by replacing it. The sharp edges are smoothed, but if anything, once a rock is polished, you see more of what makes it uniquely beautiful, not less. It’s colors become brighter and clearer.

In Doctrine and Covenants 58:4, it says, “after much tribulation come the blessings.”

Henry B. Eyring added, “The greatest blessing that will come when we prove ourselves faithful to our covenants during our trials will be a change in our natures.”

You can put plain, unremarkable rocks into a tumbler and they will emerge treasures. But it takes a long time to chip off the outer layers. Sometimes, they’re so different when they come out, they’re unrecognizable. 

Eyring says: “By our choosing to keep our covenants, the power of Jesus Christ and the blessings of His Atonement can work in us. Our hearts can be softened to love, to forgive, and to invite others to come unto the Savior. Our confidence in the Lord increases. Our fears decrease.”  

We are polished.

Eyring continued “I have seen people rise to great heights through proving faithful in terrible trials. Across the Church today are examples. People are driven to their knees by adversity. By their faithful endurance and effort, they become more like the Savior and our Heavenly Father.

In Moses 1:39 in the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord says,“For behold, this is my work and my glory―to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

Our immortality and eternal life is His work and his glory.  

This is why He allows us to “go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” It’s because all these things shall give [us] experience, and shall be for [our] good.”

Through this tribulation, He sees us. As Henry B. Eyring says, “He may not remove the burden, but He will give [us] strength, comfort, and hope. He knows the way. He drank the bitter cup. He endured the suffering of all.” 

He invites us to remember him, to learn of him―to feast upon his words and keep the covenants we have made with Him. He invites to accept the guidance and comfort he provides through the Holy Ghost, and to lift others, even when we are suffering ourselves.

Looking beyond our own circle of uncertainty or suffering can be difficult, but it can bring real relief. Service is the life hack of life hacks. If you’re having a hard time, help someone else. It will make your life better.

About 15 years ago, when we learned at a check-up that Lucy needed brain surgery the next day, I was a mess. Somehow, I made a really good decision in that uncertainty. I just went across the street to help with a little service project, but it made a huge difference for me. It calmed me and brought me peace. 

When I look back on my life, I often forget the hard times. But, besides great stories, these challenges have given me some of my greatest treasures. These experiences have helped me grow personally and increased my faith.

Even when we realize that pain and challenges strengthen and refine us, none of us are standing in line to suffer. But this is the way it’s done. I believe that each of us are here on Earth to be tested, proved and polished so that, in the end, we can join Him. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

08.30.2019 -- Fish or Cut Bait

I'm a nerd. Proof? I just looked up the definition of nerd and looked at four different sites.

As a nerd, I looked for the etymology of "fish or cut bait." See, I thought I knew what it meant, but I'm often wrong and (more often that that) learn a lot by looking stuff up. (Thanks, Mom!)

Lots of times, when people look for the origin of a word or expression, the word or expression can be traced back definitively. Other times, there are different theories about how the word or expression came into use. "Fish or cut bait," for example!

According to a few not-exhaustively searched internet sources, this expression may have/probably started with fishermen who were faced with a choice to either keep a fish or cut it up for bait. Another explanation (one that I have been using) is that a fisherman is faced with a decision to either keep fishing (in an unproductive spot--hoping the unproductive trend will change), or cut bait--meaning cut the line, losing the bait, in order to try fishing in a different spot. In other words, to keep trying, or to cut your losses.

When I looked it up, I was pretty surprised that this isn't a phrase that everyone agrees on! says that this expression is "one of the US phrases that the rest of the world doesn't understand," which makes me smile. I'm pretty sure the person who wrote it was smiling when they typed it in, too.

Anyway. To cut to the chase, "fish or cut bait" means either to decide whether to continue or to cease (and in stopping, lose some vested interest), or to decide between two activities and get started. I mean, maybe. I could be wrong.


2020 -- Some pictures.


01.20.2021 - Bridges Alight

Heaven help us. It is stunning how wide a variety of approaches there are to Covid19.

-It's a hoax. There is no "deadly" virus. This is a conspiracy to bring naive people into submission and to gain control. Masks are part of this manipulation and actually harm people.

-Coronavirus is real, sure, but it's no big deal. It's basically a cold. I am not going to stop living my life to avoid getting a cold. If I die, I die.

-Okay, so I don't want coronavirus. It's really rough on some people. I'll wear a mask at the store, and I will stay away from sick people, but I am still going to see my friends and family because my mental health is just as important as avoiding this virus that will probably just be an inconvenience. If I die, I die.

-Life goes on, but very differently. I am socializing via zoom and facetime to avoid spreading covid. I'm avoiding travel and groups larger than 5 or 10 in my pod. We need to act together to keep numbers down so hospitals aren't overwhelmed and vulnerable parts of our population don't die.

-I stay inside. Masks are important, but not as good as isolation. If we all stayed inside for a few weeks, this thing would actually get under control. The numbers are soaring, this disease is spread by people who are asymptomatic more than half of the time. Stay inside, stay safe.

And, of course, there will be a mix. Everyone has their own comfort level with exposure and isolation. What's easy to forget is that people come to these points of view with a lifetime of experience. Their approach isn't likely to change just because they read an article or because a friend tells them they should do something differently.

I am a worrier. I feel a responsibility to other humans to try to protect them as much as I protect myself.

You might say that I worry too much, that I overthink things and that it's not that big of a deal, and you'd probably be right, but that won't change my values or my point-of-view.

I'm also an extrovert. I can be exhausted and depressed, but if you put me in a group of people, chances are very good that I will emerge from that social event energized and happy. (To make things more interesting, consider that I am an expert at finding reasons not to leave my house, even when there isn't a pandemic.)

Finally, there are six people in my family, counting myself. This means that there are 6 different points of view coming from 6 different brains and bodies. Some of these I have control over, some I don't. I can tell someone in my family to wear a mask, but they'll mostly do as they please.

What feels best to me these days is manage my air. I feel comfortable wearing a mask all the time unless I'm only with the people I live with. I'm also comfortable going maskless outside or in an area with good ventilation. What makes sense to me is to imagine someone smoking. If I'm smoking a cigarette, does the ventilation allow the smoke to dissipate without bothering others and vice versa? If not, I want to wear a mask.

I do take risks. My children go to practices and don't always wear masks there. I've recently allowed them to hang out with friends without masks. These are friends they spend hours with daily in the gym, and I still ask them to wear masks most of the time, but sometimes I get tired of being vigilant--tired of being the mask nazi. I am functioning a little out of my comfort zone in order to allow some socialization for my kids within a pod, but it's not all or nothing. 

There is a meme that was going around toward the start of the pandemic that said something like "Check on your extrovert friends in lockdown--they are not okay." I think this was written by an extrovert in lockdown. I think it was a cry for help.

I have had a few breakdowns in the past year. One of the sources of my distress has been my social life and the social life of my family. I know a lot of people who have not seemed to limit much, if anything, to avoid coronavirus--people I want to spend time with--people who matter to me and my family. When one party is living unrestricted and another party (me) is trying not to socialize unless it's with masks or outside, there's a disconnect.

It doesn't mean someone is wrong. (Time will tell.) 

But there's a disconnect.

If my kid is invited to hang out and I say no, that means my kid is on the outside. Take that situation and multiply it by 50 and it has pretty big implications. When you keep saying no, people stop asking. It is painful to feel like I am killing my kids' friendships. It is painful to feel like I am killing my own friendships. It is painful to be invited to a party or dinner and to either go and feel like I am being reckless or to decline and put another brick in the wall between me and them.

It doesn't help to say I am declining because of coronavirus. Maybe I'm imagining things, but I can see it coming off as judgmental--Oh, you think we're going to give you Covid? Oh, you won't come hang out because you're better than us, following the rules? Hypocritical--I saw you riding in a car with someone and you didn't have a mask on--You didn't mind traveling and being exposed when you wanted to go out of town. Or extreme--You have really taken this too far. You're a little crazy. You do realize it's not the end of the world...

I am afraid I am burning bridges. I don't mean that in the way you would say "I'm afraid we're out of toast. Would you like an english muffin?" I am afraid that my relationships are being wrecked by the incredibly hard choices (for me they're hard) that present themselves almost daily. I am actually afraid that this will have a lasting negative impact on me and my family.

This is a NO WIN situation. Not being invited isn't fun. Being invited and declining isn't fun. Being invited and going without a mask doesn't feel right for me. Being invited and going--possibly being the only one to wear a mask feels strange but might be the best option for me. But it's hard to be different. It's not always easy to wear a mask when others don't. It feels in-your-face.

I want to spend time with friends and I want to do what I think is best. I know that my reasons and experience aren't going to be the same as other people's. I know that I could catch Covid and transmit it to someone without feeling the slightest bit ill. That's how it was with my sister-in-law. 

If I (or my family) were to spread this illness and someone were to get really sick. I don't know if I would be able to forgive myself. But if I wear a mask or stay outside and stay in my pod, I would feel like I tried hard enough. 

I beg you--if you don't understand why I am not joining you, or why my kids aren't joining you--please give us the benefit of the doubt. Please don't write us off. I am doing my best to give you the benefit of the doubt, too. 

In a perfect world (according to me), we would have no problem talking about all of this. No feelings would be hurt, no judgement passed--only good wishes. 

Also: I might be overthinking this. 😏

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

07.07.2020 -- All in the Family

Story time:

When I was growing up, there was a family--I'll call them the Yahoos--who were infamous for not having a television. Not one. If we were to find a current equivalent, it might be like finding a family who didn't have internet or smart phones.

Years later, news about the family worked its way among the people who still (or used to) live in the neighborhood.

Emily turned out to be a knockout.
Remember those braces and the hair?
...and Aaron is CEO now of Big Fancy Coorporation!

There will always be those families--you know the ones--the outliers. They're the ones who are more intense, or less. The ones who spend time differently--the ones who dress differently or... just act differently. They're weird, scary, or don't meet community standards. Outliers. They stand out, and often, they stand outside. Maybe you come from one of those families. Maybe you are one of these families.

We all thought we had the Yahoos figured out: they were backward--had no social skills and were... not attractive. We were wrong.

Some families "are all lazy," or "are alcoholics." They're "dropouts and good-for-nothings." True? How about the kid from the lazy family who got a job weeding at the local farm when he was 14 and rode the bus there and back? What about the kid from the family of alcoholics who never touched a drop and became an award-winning teacher? What about the kid from the family of good-for-nothings who worked his way up the corporate ladder and now manages strategy implementation for the region?

Furthermore, what about the kid from the family of "the best people" who is addicted to heroin and has a long criminal record? What about the kid whose parents are teachers who got caught cheating on that big test? What about the kid from the "rich family" who panhandles and lives on the street?

The point is, when we refer to families as a whole, making blanket statements or judgements, we are almost always wrong. Yes, some members of the family might fit the stereotype, but, even when humans come from the same family and live in the same house--sharing so much--people are just too different to be seen accurately unless they're seen as individuals.

I'm reading How to be an Anti-Racist right now, and this is how my brain made sense of the Ibram X. Kendi's message.

First: Anyone (and mostly...everyone) can be (or is) racist some of the time.

Second: Racism is simply a failure to see or look for the individual. It is racist to say "white people don't care about food." It isn't racist to say Ben Smythe doesn't care about food. It is racist to say "blacks are allergic to everything," because many black people don't have allergies at all. It's racist to say (racial group) are greedy and don't care about other people. It's racist to say (racial group) are generous and loving.

Because individuals cannot be defined by their race.

Simple, right? The task at hand, maybe, is to start noticing racism, and to (as he says) take the stigma out of saying something or someone is being racist. Awareness is the first step.

07.07.2020 -- Still Life

My middle-aged elbows rest 
on the edge of a table--
finish worn away
by 20 years of scribbling, scrubbing
and small acts of creative destruction.

The kitchen counters display 
promising watermelon, bananas, and limes, 
letters: requests and balances 
of children's bank accounts,
filled bit by bit by
putting and taking dishes,
wiping dog nose smears from windows,
wiping floors, toilets, sinks, mirrors,
and pushing a lawn mower. 

There are clean and dirty 
cloths and rags, 
a tin tea set 
for parties with real and imaginary friends,
notebooks, journals, 
books of scripture and fanciful stories,
swimming towels, bath towels, 
the top part of
a damp, polka-dot cherry swimsuit
with ruffles,
allergy management supplies,
and Chinese flash cards.

A heavy vase--
recently emptied of roses, lilies and orchids,
gross display of affection
from one imperfect spouse to another--
waits to be tucked away in 
a corner
of a cupboard 
with others.

There is hand sanitizer 
and a child-sized mask,
amid a pandemic.
All signs of 
and love.