Thursday, November 20, 2008

Don't Say 'Oh You Shouldn't Have,' Just Say 'Thanks'

I read somewhere that during their first winter in Plymouth, the Pilgrims' rations got so low that they were down to five kernels of corn per day per person. That's not much. Only four women survived that winter because the rest died of starvation, having given their rations to their children. Sometimes we don't realize what we have to be thankful for until we experience a time of not having something vital to our quality of life, like good health or certain creature comforts.

There's no one more offensive than an ungrateful person. They're focused on, "Well what about me and my needs?" Grateful people are so much more palatable, even if the gratitude seeps over into maudlin. I can forgive that. It may be corny (I'm guilty myself), but at least it isn't selfish. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, then, here's what I'm grateful for lately:

Electricity, indoor plumbing, vacuum cleaners, heat when it's cold, cool when it's hot, people who keep me groomed (like the hairdresser and the pedicurist), motorized carts in grocery stores that save my knees, raspberries, chocolate, giraffes, grandchildren, children who gang up on me and make a doctor's appointment I've been avoiding, The Love of My Life, keeping in touch with friends, young people who don't get tired of being good, trees, rhododendrons, irises, daffodils, roses, electronic banking, my computer, live theater, chocolate, raspberries, painkillers, Imodium, people who acknowledge that I'm worthy to draw breath and occupy space on this planet, the Internet, talents and capabilities, America's Constitutional guarantees, my right to vote, people who bless my life with humor, the Oregon coast, Tillamook cheese (and ice cream), potatoes, chocolate, raspberries, writers who make me stretch and strive to be better rather than pandering to the lowest and basest instincts for the sake of a cheap laugh, Almond Roca, goodness and decency I see in people around me, chances to write and share the things that are most important to me, turkey, Some Dude's Fry Sauce, chocolate, raspberries, kohlrabi, my valiant pioneer progenitors who fought in the Revolutionary War and crossed oceans and plains to come to Zion and live as they chose, prayer, people who recognize sincere efforts, people who recognize the person (prophet) who is otherwise without honor in his own country, Americana jigsaw puzzles, people who are part of the solution and not part of the problem, General Conference, the capacity to think, sacred places, family ties, my husband's siblings and their spouses (who accept and love me anyway), genius, minestrone, language, humble ambition, purity, integrity, nobility, the heart turned outward to do good in the world, people who take the time to read and understand my poems (NOT the judges in the LUW contest), people who lean on me and let me comfort them, little people who 'cut the pickle,' knock-knock jokes, puns, beauty, giftedness, authentic country music (not the Osmondized kind), cool jazz, garnet and opal and turquoise and azurite with chrysacola (these are a few of my favorite rings), fudge, Walnettos, Licorice All-Sorts, raspberries, genuine gospel music with good close harmony and not the screamy kind, the Book of Mormon, chances to say how thankful I am for my good, happy life.

Okay, now it's your turn.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

excerpt from 'Living It Down' (Accidentally Removed, But it's Up Again)

Polly went out with hope and enthusiasm in the morning, looking into all the job possibilities she could think of, but it was discouraging. Back at the apartment mid-afternoon, the phone rang and she wondered if someone she just interviewed with wanted to see her again.

“Polly, there are still some ripe tomatoes in the garden. You’re falling down on the job.”

“Aunt Sophie!”

“I’m home, girl. Can you come up and see me?”

“I’ll be right there.”

She ran upstairs, excited to hear all of Sophie’s adventures. They sat in the parlor where Sophie watched every afternoon through the ecru lace curtains for the mailman. Polly was shocked at her aunt’s appearance. After a three-week cruise she should have been tanned and rested, but Polly only saw tiredness. Sophie’s eyes didn’t have their usual sparkle.

But she found strength enough to regale Polly for twenty minutes with her adventures, with pictures, and tales of the people she met. She raved about the food. “Every night we had a pitcher perfect dinner,” she reported, “always starting with horse’s doovers, of course.” Sophie mangled English, but she didn’t get along with French, either. “I don’t know how those cooks did it, but every meal was a grand slang home run as far as I was concerned. I really liked their special Chinese chicken. It was laminated in a little honey and soy sauce and something citrius, and talk about melt in your mouth. But don’t you know – the waiter cut it off the bone for me, as if I haven’t been doing that all my life.”

“They said you’d get personal service,” Polly smiled.

Sophie’s traveling companions, mostly acquaintances from the Senior Center, both surprised and disappointed her. “Walter’s old friend Roy has such bad artheritis, you know, in his feet, walks with a lymph, but he got around anyway, even went dancing on big band night.”

“Did you go dancing, too, Aunt Sophie?”

“Well, I got a nasty garfunkle on my foot and I thought my dancing days were over, but I put a bread and milk poultrice on it overnight, and by the time the dance began, I was back in business.”

“It’s a good thing you know those remedies.”

“Leonard was there, too and he and Roy kind of fought over me,” she admitted. “That’s the first time that’s happened since Walter and I were courting.”

“That does wonders for a girl’s ego,” Polly said. “How was the dancing?”

“Roy can’t dance but he’s more interesting to talk to, and Leonard can dance, but he just tells one boring antidote after another about selling insurance.”

But Sophie was upset, however, with Muriel, who was never pleased with anything. “I don’t know what the matter is with that woman,“ she confided. “Some of the others think she’s got Old Timers, but I think it’s DHEA.”


“You know, where you can’t pay attention. Anyway, she had me running all over that ship with her trying to find the right people to complain to, a wild goat chase if you ask me. Every time, it turned out to be just another tempest in a B-cup. I tried to tell her.”

Sophie reported going to the stage shows every night, and Polly had to smile when her aunt said for her the highlight was the magician who fascinated everyone with his “optical conclusions.”

“What did you like best about the whole trip, Aunt Sophie?”

“Mostly I liked being waited on and catered to,” Sophie smiled, her tiredness showing again.

“They really make you feel special. They turn down the bedcovers and put a chocolate on your pillow every night. And I liked taking a book out to a deck chair or up to the library, or just sitting there on my glutinous maxius for as long as I wanted, watching the water go by.”

“It sounds glorious. I think I’d like that, too.”

“But on our last night at sea, the craziest thing happened,” Sophie said, taking an envelope out of her apron pocket. “They held a drawling for another cruise, just because they want to keep your business, I’m sure, but look, Polly – I won.” She handed her the envelope. Polly opened it and pulled out two tickets for a five-day cruise.

“You’re going again?”

“I don’t know about that, but when they called my name, it was really a thrill, I tell you. I was completely ground-rounded.” Sophie’s shoulders shook as she laughed.

Polly chuckled and handed the tickets back. “I would be, too, Aunt Sophie. I would be, too.”

(This excerpt is the property of the author and may not be copied or published.)

Gaffe Watchers

A gaffe is a verbal miscue, a brain glitch that shouldn't have come out of one's mouth, a goof, a ridiculously inane statement. I've found several that were good for guffaws at, a website of the Media Research Council, where bad reporting, arrogance, and stupidity come humorously together for all to point fingers at and laugh. Here are three:
• Chris Matthews of MSNBC is appalled that Sarah Palin talks about her faith in God, and that she will make her decision to run for president, or not, in 2012 based on guidance she receives as a result of prayer. "Talking about God in a political settling is troubling to a lot of people," Matthews said. (Maybe before Chris decides to run for the Senate from Pennsylvania, where ignorant people cling to their guns and their God, he should follow Sarah's example.) Chris also says that Joe Biden, the gaffemeister, is the most picked on politician in 30 years. Or maybe Chris is auditioning for Press Secretary in the Obama Administration...
• Katie Couric's advice to Sarah Palin: She should keep her head down, work really hard and learn about governing. (Maybe if Katie took her own advice about her own career, she might have a news program that didn't stink on ice.)
• From NewsBusted, a little comic vignette posted on the website every week: Barack Obama was elected president and the stock market fell ten percent. That must mean the stock market is racist.
Look at it like this: a few laughs a day keeps the ulcers away. Let's keep yukking it up out there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Roots and Wings

We went to see the high school production of MacBeth a couple of weeks ago (Halloween, actually... quite appropriate when you think about it) and thoroughly enjoyed it. We were sitting in front of a row of high school boys who were enjoying it, too, and I was pleased to hear that. This production reminded me that this is essentially a love story. It's a fierce, frank, earthy love, and the young actors played it as well as two teenagers could. (It wasn't Romeo and Juliet, after all.) I emailed the director to commend her for the fine production.

Mainly we went to see the play because the set was designed by a young friend of mine, Garret. He is a gifted writer and artist, and at almost the last minute, he was pulled onstage to take a small role as the doctor in the mad scene. I was impressed that he was such a good listener. Having worked with a lot of actors, I know how crucial that is to the believability of the performance. An actor has to perform as if he's never heard those lines before, even though he's been through weeks of meticulous and grueling rehearsals. When an actor listens, the audience feels the spontaneity.

Another young friend of mine, Dallen, is soon headed for Washington, D.C. and the United States Senate. He was accepted for the Senate Page program last year by Senator Robert Bennett's office. Only sixteen young people are given this honor nationally, many of them sons and daughters of senators and governors. Dallen will spend six months in Washington, December to July, being an eyewitness to history, attending the Inauguration, having dinner at the White House, and so on. I cautioned him recently that he would grow and learn so much more than his peers here at home, but in the end, he will have to come home, and he will have to be patient. After he graduates from Richfield High School in 2010, he will have a full scholarship to any of the top colleges and universities in the country. Dallen is also a gifted writer, having just completed a novel and started another.

Last night I spent some time critiquing six poems sent me by another young friend, Elysa. She came to me for tutoring in writing when she was 13 years old because she wanted more than she was getting in school. She is a gifted poet, and now as a college student she still sends her poems to me for my response.

These three young people are very important to me, and I treasure their friendship. To mentor is to touch the future, and when I read their writing or sit with them in conversations in my office or living room or online, I have great hope. Garret, Dallen and Elysa appreciate their roots and the solid values they were raised in, but they are not root-bound. They know the world is bigger than the borders of Sevier County, and they are preparing to take flight. I hope I have helped them strengthen their wings.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Keeping Warm This Winter

I have a new blankie.

As a child, I was never encumbered by an object I associated with thumb-sucking comfort. I seemed, as my husband later described it, to have sprung full blown from the forehead of Zeus. I never sucked my thumb, either; as a very verbal child, I just talked people to distraction, which eventually put me to sleep, too. Maybe it's my lack of thumb-sucking that keeps me now from being a gum chewer. No oral fixations for me; can't stand the stuff.

However, a lot of kids have what starts out as a blanket they drag around to facilitate the pleasure of thumb-sucking. As essential as air and food, this blanket eventually becomes a pathetic little rag embarrassing to parents and siblings, but everyone is programmed to stop what they're doing and find the blankie when it goes missing. Some children have their blankie until long after they start school, and it's a huge trauma to be apart from it for any length of time.

My new blankie isn't just a rectangle I throw over myself. It has sleeves; I wear it like a surgeon's gown and wrap it around the back. The sleeves are loose, allowing me to read a book and still keep my hands warm. It's acrylic, a manmade fiber, the warmest, softest substance ever to come from a chemistry lab. My beautiful new blankie also has extra fabric at the top to bundle around and keep my neck and the tops of my shoulders warm. This is important because I sleep sitting up. It has a kangaroo pocket in the front, and the hem is attached only at the seams, leaving a little pocket there for feet. Yes, it's brilliantly designed, and adding to my pleasure is the fact that it's my favorite burgundy color.

While I am not obsessive about my blankie, I don't need to go back and touch it during the day for reassurance that I'm still alive. I'm okay with delayed gratification, but I find more and more it is the pleasure I look forward to at the end of the day, the arms of comfort, the assurance of sleep. I always smile when I think about my blankie.

Yesterday I checked the ten-day forecast on the weather channel website, and starting this week we are going to have freezing temperatures at night. I paid an inordinate amount of money for my new blankie, but it was a small price to pay for the peace and comfort I'm feeling now, and the confidence I expect to feel over the next few months while the storms rampage and the winds threaten and the frost and snow attempt to paralyze me. Whatever the winter brings, I'm going to be just fine, wrapped in my burgundy acrylic blankie with sleeves.