Monday, July 31, 2006

Morning star

I am a wannabe morning person. I love how it feels when I get up and get things done in the early hours -- that sense of accomplishment that nothing can take away from me, regardless of what other goofy stuff happens that day. It's just so hard to get there. I don't naturally want to roll out of bed before 6 and drag myself to the gym or out on a walk. I love my bed. I would like to stay there for a long time, sleep a little more, stretch a little, read a little, then amble into the kitchen for breakfast with the newspaper before I attack the day. But I can't have the accomplishment and the ambling. They do not mix.

Today I am resolving (again) to be really dedicated to my health and fitness goals. I have 9 weeks until my brother's wedding. If I can work very hard and be very good for those weeks, maybe I will not look so very much like the chubby sister in the photos. (I do have to thank the bride in advance for choosing black and white as her colors. A black dress will help immensely!)

In keeping with this resolution, I went to the gym this morning. Got there about 6:05. I did this for a few months through last winter. I was short on sleep and hardly ever saw my husband through that time, but I did get to the gym almost every day. It's not easy.

There is an older gentleman who works out at my gym in the morning. A wonderful, friendly man. He seems to be friends with everyone. I've talked to him before; he calls me "young lady." He saw me today busting my poor little biceps and came up to talk to me. He asked me where I'd been. How nice was that? I told him I'd been trying to make it in the evenings, which is mostly true, but that it hadn't been working out. He wondered why. I told him I was a mom, and he instantly understood.

No big revelation here. Just a friendly guy who lit up my early morning today by remembering me and asking where I'd been. I could learn from that.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Stage seven

With the kind cooperation of childcare providers, I made it to my all-day meeting in Modesto yesterday. It was a crisis communications conference sponsored by Stanislaus County. The speaker was Vincent Covello, who seems at first to be a classic East Coast BS-er (and I still think his stories about his wife must be fictional -- I hope so, for her sake) but turned out to have an awful lot of good information. The workshop was a very good experience for someone in my professional position.

One thing he said struck me and still turns my stomach to think about.

We were doing an exercise preparing for media questions during an influenza pandemic, "stage four." We were to assume conditions in hospitals and grocery stores not far off those that occurred after Hurricane Katrina -- except worldwide. Needless to say, this was pretty frightening.

He then said he spent last week in Beijing preparing a crisis plan for an influenza pandemic, "stage seven." He said, "You don't want to know what that means." Four people from the conference were hospitalized with panic attacks or nervous breakdowns.

These are real world leaders preparing for things they really think might happen. Rudy Giuliani hired Covello in 1995 to help the city of New York prepare for crises such as the bombing of major landmarks. Only six years later, he found a very good use his crisis plan.

I'm not an alarmist or an end-of-the-world freak or a conspiracy theorist. But I do believe that someday Jesus is coming back to set things straight in this world he made and saved. And before then, a whole lot of very scary things are supposed to happen. I don't automatically believe those who say that's coming anytime real soon. But on the other hand, it could be. Who are we to say?

It's easy, when you're trying to be prepared either personally or professionally, to get caught up in fear. How will I keep my children safe? How will we survive? How will we cope with images as scary as we've seen on CNN, only right in our own neighborhoods? How will we answer the questions of others? How will we deal with the questions in our own hearts?

Yesterday as the space between my ears started to buzz with this kind of panic, I remembered. I have a safe place. It's not a perfect place but it offers a promise that I believe. It's the gospel of Christ and the direction of inspired leaders. And if the going gets really rough down here, I don't think I'm going to be worrying about the concerns that seem so important to me in my day to day life. I'm going to want to be a lot more trusting and a lot more obedient. I should probably practice those things.

If we are prepared, we shall not fear.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Evoking Alaska

I think our heat wave has begun to break. Today was only 104 degrees. In the shade, with a breeze blowing, it actually felt pleasant. Amazing how temperature is all relative. Ten degrees cooler is a lot cooler. It reminded me of when I was a teenager living in Fairbanks, and a lot of my peers started wearing shorts when it got up above zero. That usually happened in March. Thirty to sixty degrees warmer is a whole lot warmer. I never got over being a cheechako (non-Alaskan) quite enough to don shorts in that weather, myself.

While the heat raged in the Valley this summer, I read this book. We have a signed copy, as G's dad works with the author, Ned Rozell. ("To G, from your dad's pal," it says.) Dreaming of the Arctic summer was the perfect escape from the burnt grass and the smog. Places I've seen echoed with crystal realism -- Bristol Bay, Denali National Park, Fairbanks, Fox. Rivers and streams, some lazy and wide, some brilliantly icy and rapid. Remote mining claims. Landscapes, sounds, people, all allowed me to rediscover the Alaska I knew. Sometimes I thought I could feel the air the way it felt when the sun was skimming the horizon while G and I canoed the Chena or picked wild blueberries in the hills in the middle of the night, the summer we were engaged and again the year after we got married.

Speaking of that. Even Rozell's frustrating aimlessness and unwillingness to commit to the girlfriend I was rooting for by the end of the book were familiar. I knew guys like that, up there. There are probably guys like that everywhere, but I think more of them congregate in the North and in other wild places. It doesn't impress me. At least he's honest. (I have to say, I'm awfully lucky to have found a smart, sensitive Alaska man without the fear and the semi-drifter status or the machisimo you sometimes see.)

He's honest about other things too. His ambivalence about the oil pipeline and mining, all while he benefits from those endeavors, and not just indirectly. That's a dilemma for all of us, but up there you're a lot closer to where damage is being done. You have to face what you're doing when you drive a car or wear a gold necklace. And you have to decide whether you really think it's worth it. Some people up there decide it's not.

I never traveled Alaska with either the exhaustiveness or the intimacy that Rozell did. But reading his book did make me determined to get my kids up there to see their dad's hometown and the place where God's hand took me to find him. There are a lot of wonderful things to take in up there.

Temperatures in the 70s and clean air are among them.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Complain list

Things that suck today
  • Heat
  • Cramps
  • Husband out of town (don't even think about it, creepy stalkers)
  • Dirty kitchen (directly related to previous entry)
  • Not enough sleep
  • Fence still not fixed in back yard (stupid landlord)
  • Air quality and allergies
  • Uncooperative hair
  • Owie on my toe from tripping over the foot of the treadmill, very ugly
  • Forgetting S's medicine and having to turn around after getting all the way to the daycare
  • Getting stuck waiting for a train
  • Being late to a staff meeting
  • Blogging instead of attacking my pile of work
  • Not knowing how I am going to manage to leave at 7 AM tomorrow for an 8 AM meeting in Modesto
Just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

And funny kids

Mama's too tired to write tonight. Single parenting, not all it's cracked up to be. And it's not cracked up to be much.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Kid funnies

S, hearing his mother stretch her soprano range: You sing like a manatee. (This is only funny if you are a Veggie Tales Silly Songs aficionado.)

S, trying to get to the bottom of the pool: I think my butt floats.

A, clutching a box of Barbara's lowfat organic cheese bites: These crackers are part of my life!

Friday, July 21, 2006

What would you do with $408?

I would pay for the privilege of keeping my house cool for the last month. Well, I might do something else with it if I had a choice, but I have no choice now. No joke.

So I guess I better use my time this weekend to change the furnace filter, hang up my unused clothesline, fix the blinds on my west-facing windows, and maybe even cover the south-facing bathroom windows somehow.

Last summer was not this expensive and I'm trying to figure out why.

Crap, I can't believe we owe that much.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

And tutus up again

Ebay is having a listing sale. See my pretty blue tutu set! Go! Bid! Buy!

Summer of the muffin

Today was the monthly birthday breakfast at work. My boss is one of the birthday girls this month. Happy birthday P, and good luck in your adoption plans! I have a great boss and I am super excited for her.

Last year I made this for her birthday breakfast. Now, the same things that were in season last July are also in season this July. Imagine that! But I didn't want to make the same recipe. For one thing, I don't have enough money for an extra trip to the store to buy hazelnuts this week. Not that hazelnuts are all that expensive, but the two tubs of ice cream, the huge watermelon and the giant bag of ice I would have surely found in my cart would start to add up. (See yesterday's post if you are confused!)

I did already have berries in the fridge though, so I thought I would combine them with the muffin mania I seem to have this summer and the two black bananas in my freezer. Muffins are not too bad to bake in hot weather if you do it at night. They only need 20-25 minutes in a moderate oven. If you are going to get all crazy and bake in the summer, muffins and cupcakes are the thing to bake.

Oh, and Sally, I needed more soft moist stuff to sub for the third banana I didn't have. Remember when we talked about that? And I had no applesauce. So creative me, I used some leftover mashed potatoes. It worked great.

Bananaberry Muffins

1 c sugar
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 c leftover plain mashed potatoes
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla

1/2 c milk
1 tsp cider vinegar

2 1/2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1 c blueberries, well washed and sorted with stems removed
18 raspberries

Prepare muffin tins for 18 muffins. Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine sugar, oil, bananas, potatoes and eggs in mixer. Combine well. Combine milk and vinegar in a measurer and allow to curdle briefly. Add to banana mixture.

Add dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in blueberries.

Fill muffin tins 2/3 full. Remember to fill any empty cups with water so your tins don't warp. Gently press a whole raspberry into the top of each muffin. This makes them so pretty and appealing!

Bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until light golden brown and fragrant.

Good luck waiting until morning to try them. I know I couldn't.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Hot fuss

Nope, not listening to The Killers today. Just fussing about the heat.

The forecast gives us 106 degrees on this July day. The grass is dying a slow, horrible burning death and the lake has probably evaporated by now. I could go check -- it is right next door, after all -- but it's too freaking hot to go outside.

I need to make a run to Target for mouthwash and cotton balls and blank CDs, but I think I would get heat stroke on the way. Do you know how miserable it is to get into a car if it has been sitting in an unshaded Central Valley parking lot all morning? Torture, I tell you.

Women around here are wearing progressively less fabric on their bodies as the summer wears on. I don't judge them the way I used to. If it wouldn't look so silly with my chosen underclothing I'd have myself in a halter top, too, chub and all.

I can't even go swimming tonight (we have nice friends with money and swimming pools, lucky us) because of other commitments. Wah!

The utility bill? It is going to be outrageous. I'm betting it's more than $300. I don't even freaking care. I cranked the air down to 71 degrees last night and slept the best I have slept in weeks. Ahhhhhhh.

Oh, and did you know I am going to a family reunion in August? In Southern Utah? Where it might be even hotter than the Central Valley? Yes, this is the vacation I get to look forward to. Next time I am going to insist we all meet in Monterey. I bet you money they would thank me for it.

I spent my teenage years in Alaska. Sometimes people ask me if I miss it. Usually I say no. I liked it, but I don't yearn to go back. California makes me happy. Except on days like today. Bring on the cool, clear mornings, the bike rides ruined by afternoon rains, the canoe rides under the midnight sun, the chilly camping trips by the icy river. I'd suffer through the isolation and the mosquitos and the (ahem) interesting characters you find up north, if I could just get the heck out of this heat.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Something in the aria

Tonight I went to a fabulous concert. Not much like the last fabulous concert I went to except for the fact that the standards of performance were immaculate, the audience was enthusiastic and I walked away feeling different than when I walked in.

The performer tonight was a classical soprano who has performed in big-time venues but now lives in our little town and mothers two small daughters. She was ... oh man, so amazing. I know her a little bit from a work collaboration and have heard her a couple of times before in different settings, but this was the first time I heard her sing in a concert hall and really explore the range of her repertoire. She sang European art songs, operatic arias, new compositions, and selections from American musical theater. Her song choices were impeccable -- she hooked her audience and reeled us in.

But tonight left me more than dazzled. It made me think -- about me. I think I have the raw material to do what this soprano has done. Emphasis there on raw. Mostly untrained. I took lessons in high school from a crazy lesbian music professor in Alaska, and then for a semester at BYU from a very very good teacher. But I didn't cope well with the big-fish-in-a-little-pond feeling I had at BYU. And after marrying young, I told myself I needed to prepare for a career that would mix well with family life. I did that, and I think I'm good at what I do. But a couple of people who knew me when I was younger and starrier-eyed have expressed surprise and disappointment that I didn't pursue music as a career.

Tonight twisted my back-facing thoughts into regret. What was I thinking? How was I so ungrateful for the gifts I was given, that I didn't develop them and learn to shine when I had the chance? Is writing really as special as singing? Is it enough to sing in the ward choir once a month and just do whatever else comes up?

This evening's nightingale is certainly mixing her music and her family life very successfully, albeit on a small stage in a small town. Her three year old daughter called out "I LOVE YOU MOMMY!" as the applause died out from her standing ovation. I would bet money that was sweeter than all the applause of an entire career. How could I have been so naive as to think that was impossible?

Of course this is unproductive and depressing for me at this point. I'm too old and too encumbered in life to start a big-time music career, even if it were possible for me to get my voice back in shape. And I think I made the best career decisions I could with the knowledge I had, in the circumstances I was in.

Much better than being jealous or regretful, I should be inspired. I should choose that. So I am working to turn my twinges into something more positive.

One of the shining moments tonight was Sull'Aria from La Nozze di Figaro. (How can that help but shine?) The other vocalist on the duet was the voice teacher at the local community college. She and the starring soprano are planning to produce Figaro here in our little town next spring and more operas in the future. I don't know if I can be ready to participate in time for Figaro. Too many days go by where I don't sing a note; I'm rusty, creaky, undisciplined. But I am thinking about some voice lessons at the community college this fall. That way, I'll be ready for more opportunities and I'll hear about more opportunities, I think.

But of course it's complicated, now that I'm a 32-year-old, working-outside-the-home, trying-to-lose-weight, young-women-leader, blogging mommy. (Just had to include all my major commitments, there.) Can I really be that selfish? Take one more evening away from my kids, when I am already away all day at work and gone on Tuesdays for Mutual? You know, it's not like I'm dying for a night out of the house these days. I prize my time at home. Honestly.

It's a hard decision. But I'm leaning toward doing it. I want to be able to go to the next concert without feeling so conflicted.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Making a go of it

I'll admit, I was kind of casting about for something to write today. I can't explain why I chose this, except that it's a picture more people should see, and a story more people should know.

This photo must have been taken in 1957 or 1958. The young couple on the right -- my husband's parents, as it happens -- had eloped from their home in Montana when they were only eighteen. The young man had joined the Navy. They were living in San Francisco. The young man's very cultured and proper mother was ostensibly trying to accept her only son's choice of a bride, the beautiful, petite girl from the wrong side of the tracks with the difficult family background. You can see it in this photo. (Come closer, mom. No, son, I'm staying where I am, but I'll smile for the camera.)

I don't know whether the young couple had already lost their first baby, a preemie, or whether he was on the way. (If that baby were born today, he would almost certainly be able to survive. Amazing.) Either way, they still had so much ahead of them. College and graduate school, five living children and a move to Alaska. Ups and downs, battles.

But on this day the flowers were blooming in San Francisco and the clean white linens were blowing in the sea breeze. They were going to make a go of it.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Belatedly, the chairs

So people keep pestering me to post a picture of my dining set. As if I actually finished the projects that I start! Hahahahaha! Seriously, I once heard that the last ten percent of any project is the hardest part. That is certainly true for me. I have sanded, painted, antiqued and sanded again, on most of this dining set. I have also re-covered the seat cushions. I still need to antique and sand off the table, and actually screw on the seats of the chairs.

Right now when you sit on these chairs you had better sit straight and you had better sit still, because otherwise you and your upholstered seat cushion will go flying.

Actually, maybe I should leave at least two of them unscrewed, considering whom I eat dinner with every night.

Anyway, presenting the chairs. Before and after. Ta-da!


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A book to pull me along

Wow, how long since I did a real book review? A long time.

I got this book from my dad for my birthday in April. True to form, Dad did not stick with an easy book. He has a history of book gifts just outside my usual preference of woman-authored or at least woman-focused novels. Just enough to pull me along to be a little smarter and a little more thoughtful. The Long Walk to Freedom took me two months (well, a little more, actually) to finish. It took me some time to digest. But it was never, ever boring. I read at the gym, I read while dinner was cooking, and I read on the way to Pioneer Trek. Also while neglecting numerous other duties, of course.

A major theme was the sacrifice made by Nelson Mandela. He sacrificed his place in his family to fight for freedom. If my husband wanted to do that, I can pretty much guarantee you I would have a big, fat fit. (Which is pretty much what Mandela's first wife did; their marriage broke up over his commitment to the struggle.) And yet, somebody had to do this. Somebody really had to step up to the plate.

Mandela himself looks back and says that being the father of a family is a greater joy than being the father of a nation, a joy he had too little of. But what would South Africa be without this tremendously committed, intelligent, humane leader? What would I do if my husband were meant to be that man? Or what would he do if I were meant to be that woman? It's a hard question.

I do believe that there are things that are worth sacrificing that much for. In theory I think I could do it, whether I was the freedom fighter or the spouse. It's when I start thinking about application that it begins to freak me out.

The book contains excerpts from several of Mandela's major speeches for the ANC, for his trials and at the time of his release. It's worth having in your library just for those. There are jewels among his words that shine as brightly as the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. Intercultural harmony is now needed as urgently on the world stage as in the United States, if not more. It might behoove us to learn to think about it on a more global scale, and Mandela's words are a great starting point.

The cover quotes a Boston Globe review stating this book should be read by every person alive. They might actually be right about that.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Enchiladas for veggie types

Ever since I made canneloni a couple of months ago, I've been thinking about enchiladas. This week I bought some corn tortillas and some green enchildada sauce, planning to make some of the chicken variety. Not the chicken and cream of chicken soup variety ... not really my style, and that's the nice way to say I hate cream of whatever.

Anyway I got to thinking today about the leftover grilled zucchini and sweet corn on the cob in my fridge, from my grilled kebab dinner spectacular with the missionaries on Sunday. They came from Montana and Wyoming. They'd never eaten kebabs before! I was so glad to remedy that. Pork sirloin, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, marinated in lemon and basil and cooked on charming little bamboo skewers ... accompanied by fresh sweet corn and french bread. Oh, and lemon meringue pie for dessert! It was great. All missionaries should be so well fed, don't you think? But I digress. And brag. I should quit.

From the remains of that dinner, I dreamed up this little lovely. I got home from work at 5:45 and we were around the table eating by 6:30, which is not too darn bad for a weeknight. Timely since there's a little vegetarian discussion going on at FMH. We're part-time veggies in our family. This works well. You get grilled pork kebabs AND delicious smoky cheesy enchiladas. The best of both worlds.

Zucchini and Corn Enchiladas with Green Sauce

About 1 c leftover grilled zucchini, diced
2 ears sweet corn, cut off the cob
1 yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin or to taste
1/2 tsp oregano, or to taste
dash black pepper
1 c fat free cottage cheese (TRUST ME! Or you could use crumbled tofu, tempeh, or small beans, if you are a vegan. But the cottage cheese is good in there. Better than you think. Sure, some cotija would be great. It's just that I don't realy keep that around.)
12-14 small corn tortillas, room temperature or warmer
1 large can green enchilada sauce
1 c shredded monterey jack cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cover the bottom of a 9x13" baking pan with enchilada sauce.

Saute onion in olive oil over medium-high heat until translucent. If it starts to caramelize, so much the better! Add zucchini and corn. Stir in cumin, oregano and pepper. Remove from heat. Stir in cottage cheese.

Place about 2 tablespoons of your veggie-cheese mixture inside a tortilla. Roll tightly and place in baking pan. You might need to have someone help you hold it shut until it's surrounded by a few more rolls. Repeat with remaining tortillas until filling is gone.

Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas in pan. Cover with shredded cheese. Bake 20 minutes.

Salad on the side, a tall glass of ice water ... yum yum!

Transitioning back to chaos

The recent experience I've had with my kids spending two weeks at Grandma's house has given me an interesting opportunity -- the opportunity to place my life with kids in sharp contrast to a life without kids.

When we became parents, we passed through a kind of veil -- the months of sleepless fog that happen when you have a newborn. Even before that, there were the years (in our case) of planning and wishing for a baby. Although we still felt shocked by some of our new realities when S came home, it was a pretty gentle transition, psychologically. Or maybe my memory is just obscured. That's totally possible.

In any case, my kids have been back home for a little more than two weeks now. We were able to maintain pretty good control for the first little while. The house stayed clean. We were on top of our discipline plan and our budget. We had built up enough goodwill at work (extra hours while the kids were gone) that we didn't feel bad about calling it quits for the day at 4:30 or so.

Not now.

My laundry is a mile high. I have no idea what I'm cooking for dinner tonight. The bathrooms are once again disgusting. Our budget meeting (DH and me) was suppsed to be July 1 and we haven't had it yet. There is a half-formed sand volcano in the back yard. The kids have rejected their bunk beds and started sleeping on their floor, creating the appearance of constant chaos in their room. I have bills to pay. I missed my workout yesterday because I was so extremely exhausted, even after a two hour nap Sunday afternoon.

Ah, back to my real life.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Weekend muffins

So I overbought the bananas. Salgal is a banana bread pro, but I'm more a muffin kinda girl. And you know, I have this thing for flax and oats. So here's what I did yesterday.

Banana Muffins with Oats and Flax

1 c sugar
1/2 c vegetable oil
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 c flour
1 c oats
1/2 c flax meal
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffin tins for 18 regular-size muffins (grease or use muffin papers). If you don't have a 6-muffin tin, you will need to fill the remaining wells in your second 12-muffin tin half full of water to avoid warping your tin.

Combine all wet ingredients well. Add dry ingredients and stir just until moistened. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full. Bake 25 minutes.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Resume for a stay-at-home mom

A friend of mine is considering going back to work after spending more than a decade at home with her kids. Life brings us these opportunities and necessities sometimes, as I know very well from my own experience. She asked for some resume ideas. Here's what I thought of, based on my experience.

At-home Mother, 1999 - 2004

- Teaching and nurturing two young children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
- Management of household schedule and budget
- Management of household shopping and meals
- Organizing social events for adults and children
- Orchestrating cleanup and work duties, including supervising children in chores
- Taking charge of all household repairs
- Diplomacy with challenging clientele ages 0 - 5 years
- Negotiation of home and family-related duties with partner
- Keeping records of daily activities through writing and photography

Attributes developed:
- Organization
- Multitasking
- Persistence
- Patience
- Flexibility
- Communication
- Balance
- Motivating others
- Practical skills in household management

What would you add?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I have That Kid

For inclusion in the distinguished ranks of That Kid throughout history, where he may join the likes of Bart Simpson; Dennis the Menace; and Skipper, Bud and Cletis, I submit my son, S.

Yesterday G took the boys to the Other Ward's Independence Day breakfast at the stake center. Unbeknownst to his parents, S had raided the family fireworks stash and pocketed two smoke bombs. You would think this would be no problem. You would think people would keep any lighters, matches, magnifying glasses or other potential means of starting fire well out of reach of an almost-seven-year-old. Even a very tall almost-seven-year-old as S happens to be.

If you think that, however, you don't know what I know: There is no such thing as out of reach.

S wandered into the kitchen and found a lighter -- the long, skinny type you use to light a gas stove or a grill without its own ignition. I can just imagine his delight.

Soon the patriotic revelers were choking on smoke. He'd crawled under one of the tables to light that baby.

G says most people took it in stride. The bishop of the Other Ward was not happy and came to tell G he "had a problem and needed to take care of it." Wisely, G ignored him. Had I been there I would have been beside myself with embarrassment and probably would have dragged a screaming S out of there, swathed in smoke. Because I'm psycho like that. Fortunately, I was home making lemon meringue pie, instead.

Blessings on a dad who takes the kids out of the house while mom makes pies for the True and Living Ward Independence Day Picnic. Phooey on stuffed-shirt Other Ward breakfasters. Hurray for That Kid!

Monday, July 03, 2006

With courage strong they met the test

I have been so busy since I got back from my day with Pioneer Trek, I haven't had time to write. But I don't want to gloss over this fantastic experience.

I was in Young Women from 1986 - 1992, and I don't think folks were doing treks too much in those days. What a shame! I so wish I could have done this as a youth. I had some great experiences, but this was a step above.

We left our town about 6 in the morning to drive to a gorgeous spot above Jackson, California -- the site of the old Iron Mountain ski resort which closed in a financial hoo-hah several years ago. In this area is a trail cut by the Mormon Battalion and beautiful views of Melissa Corey Peak. The tall pines give plentiful shade and the air is deliciously clear and cool -- boy, were we all glad to leave a Central Valley heat wave for this!

Once we arrived, we had a tasty hamburger lunch. The youth were divided into families and loaded their handcarts. I was familyless, since I was just there for the day. It provided an interesting chance to be an observer, more or less.

I spent the early afternoon working with the stake leaders preparing food and activities for the youth as they completed the first couple of miles of their journey. As we joined them, they'd just had their first trailside burial -- a baby doll. I had some doubts about this in the planning stages. Was it too manipulative? Was it even going to be effective? Was it right to use a pretend story like this to teach pioneer history? What about to teach gospel principles about death and resurrection? I didn't argue this stuff because it wasn't my place, but I did wonder.

It turned out to be a very simple, sweet, honest experience. As soon as we walked up to the clearing where our youth had stopped, I felt it. The Spirit was undeniably there. Two leaders dressed in white had come and taken the baby from the pretend parents. They then gave the doll back to the family for burial. The entire company sang and prayed. Many cried.

Later in the day, I heard one male leader protest his wife's tears -- "It was just a doll," he said. Loudmouth me, I had to remind him that there were plenty of real babies to think about and cry for. I guess I was persuaded about this idea, huh?

My first part in the day followed this event. I was portraying Mary Goble Pay. I told the story using the words of Virginia Hinckley Pearce -- just edited to make Mary the speaker. Again, my emotions surprised me. The importance of rearing my children in the gospel came home to me. The depth of sacrifice that Mary's mother made for this purpose struck at my heart. It was a struggle for me to speak these words.

We walked the next three miles with the youth, uphill on a dusty but well-graded road. The sun grew hot for the first time. We were awfully glad to have our plastic water bottles. And by the end of this leg of the journey, everybody was tired and hungry.

We stopped for some more dramatic portrayals. One was Ephraim Hanks, mountain man rescuer of the Martin Company. His first-person descriptions were bleak and evocative. And then, dinner. Rationed broth and hardtack, and the youth were not too happy. That would have been a good decent meal on the trail.

I couldn't help thinking about my handcart pioneer ancestor, Sarah Crossley. By the time Brother Hanks found her group, they were surviving -- barely -- on a tablespoon of flour a day. As we walked the final mile to the camp site, I told her story to the other leader I was walking with.

At camp, we fed the youth another dinner. So the meager meal was another manipulation, if you want to look at it that way. A lesson, really. We all certainly appreciated the goulash, salad and garlic bread we got to eat as we looked out over an amazing view of the Sierra Nevada.

We had a little time to fill before the fireside, and I was asked to share Sarah's story. I messed it up a little bit -- I always forget whether she was in the Martin or the Willey Company. I hope my posting the link above can make up for that error. Then my second planned part in the day -- I provided the musical number for the fireside. I chose "Pioneer Lullaby"from Half the beauty of this piece is in the simple, rich chord accompaniment, but I was a capella. I think it held up okay, anyway.

The fireside speaker was our stake patriarch. His message was mostly aimed at the youth, of course. But a few words in particular stood out to me. He talked about how the handcart pioneers lost toes, fingers, feet to frostbite. And he asked, "Are you going to let the adversary chip away at you?" A little at first. A bad attitude. Some criticisms. Some questions. Some doubts.

I think I've lost some toes in the last little while. Best to cut them off and come inside, before the cold reaches my heart.