Sunday, December 4, 2011

Getting Inside of Christmas

The Christmas season is upon us! The decorations are up, the music is on, the parties have begun, and the spirit of Christmas is present. But what special moment will make this Christmas one to remember?

"The outside of Christmas is visible. You can see it. It is there in Christmas trees, in holly, in toys, in gay store windows, in gifts wrapped in bright paper. The outside of Christmas can be heard. In chimes, in carols, in organ music, in the voices of the choir, in sleigh bells. The outside of Christmas can be tasted - there's the turkey and cranberry sauce, the pumpkin pie and candy.

In the hurry and scurry of the Christmas season, most of us limit our contact to the outside of Christmas. We are so busy that we do not have time to get inside Christmas, so Christmas becomes for most of us a surface experience. To discover the true riches of the Christmas season we must penetrate beneath the surface; we must get inside of Christmas. Christmas will get inside of us and we will have a truly mystical experience.

No one knows how to go about exploring the inside of Christmas. Each of us must go adventuring to find the inside of Christmas in his own way. One thing is certain and that is that we must get away from the turmoil and the crowds and the outward excitement that are so much a part of the outside of Christmas. We must get away from the visible and journey into the invisible.

We must quiet the mind. We must seek the inside of Christmas in the silence; we must look for it in our deeper selves. We may go alone into a cathedral or chapel late at night to meditate. We may sit alone by the fire in our homes after all the others have retired and open ourselves to the inflow of good will and joy and peace. We may take a long walk under the stars, or through the softly falling snow. We may sit by the bedside of a sleeping little one and think about the miracle of childhood.

When we take the time to seek and find the inside of Christmas, the Christmas spirit will glow with a new radiance within our hearts."
Winferd A. Peterson, Ideals Magazine, Christmas Issue; Vol. 15, No. 4, October 1958, Ideals Publishing Co.

I recall many quiet inside moments of Christmas over the years. In 1977, I found myself celebrating Christmas by myself for the first time in my life. I was a foreign student living with a Japanese family in the small town of Iwamizawa. On Christmas eve, I left the house alone after dark and began walking on the snow packed streets on a quiet, peaceful beautiful night with stars twinkling in the sky. I pondered many things and reflected upon the first Christmas night. It gave me a chance to think about my family and those things on the inside that make Christmas so special.

I recall another busy, hectic day about a week before Christmas when I was overwhelmed with Christmas chore minutia. I left home on a snowy, cold evening to begin my last whirlwind shopping binge when suddenly the power went out across the city. With the stores closed, I returned home, flipped the switch on the fireplace in my bedroom, lay down on the floor and stared into the beautiful flickering flame. I took a big breath and sighed. My world slowed to a beautiful halt. I enjoyed a calm, meaningful evening in the dark, still silence.

As a friend so poignantly stated, Christmas is a time of letting in. The malls and shopping centers let us in early and welcome us to stay late. Two thousand years ago, a young family found themselves in the cold because no one would let them in.

This Christmas I plan to take those few special moments to let in or get inside of Christmas. It helps me to align my perspective with gratitude and humbleness and to be my better self. I wish everyone a wonderful Christmas season both inside and out. . . "and as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why I Love Music

Saturday, two weeks ago, was a very fun music day. First, I accompanied for Kids Are Music children's choir at the Newgate Mall as they ushered in Santa who received keys to open the new Peppermint Depot.

An hour later, I accompanied Kevin Shumway, a cellist with the Utah Symphony at a Youth Guild luncheon. He performed several numbers and spoke to 50 plus teens about his love of music. I agree with so many things that he said. Any kind of music that moves you or makes you happy inside is good. Music has the ability to take you to a different place, out of the world, out of the daily grind. It releases your mind and perhaps gets you thinking about many other things. These things could be nostalgic, energizing, pleasant, suspicious,wondering,inspiring, irritating, etc.

Much of my life has been immersed in music. My mom spent hours with me on the piano bench, encouraging me to develop a talent and to find the joy that music can bring to the soul.

When I was about sixteen, I heard my second cousin, Ann Christensen play the piano while visiting my grandma. She had recently won the Utah State Fair piano competition, soloed with Salute to Youth, and won a piano competition in Texas. I was blown away with her playing. After hearing her, I developed an insatiable appetite to get serious about the piano. After taking piano lessons for much of my life with great teachers such as Frederick Dixon and Carol Hurst, I began lessons with Anne's teacher, Gladys Gladstone, and had an incredible journey over the next few years.

Gladys insisted on absolute perfection in playing anything, be it Bach preludes and fugues, Beethoven sonatas, or Chopin scherzos. She was able to pull incredible emotions somewhere from deep inside to make the music come alive. Beyond technique, she emphasized the importance of mental focus and total concentration. She taught me to sculpt various passages like a strand of pearls, from small to large and back. She insisted on practice with a metronome to strike every note in a run with exact precision. She had me paint pictures in my mind to create the proper mood and setting of each piece. Her wonderful teaching guided me to experience the thrill of soloing with a symphony and the great satisfaction of creating beautiful music on stage with wonderful orchestras including the Utah Symphony, the Great American Symphony, Utah Youth Symphony and the University of Utah Chamber Orchestra.

Many benefits have spilled over into my life from studying a musical instrument. Things such as staying focused and pursuing perfection, or at least striving for excellence. Practice does not make perfect, but rather PERFECT practice makes perfect.

Good, better, best
Never let it rest
'Til your good is better
And your better is best! - Unknown

Music lessons taught me the importance of consistency - practicing daily even when it wasn't convenient. And knowing a piece so well that you could play it at any time, be it 5:30 a.m. or 8 p.m. at night. It is important to set a standard for yourself and keep that standard. Hacking through something on a public stage does not promote self confidence or self esteem. But being well prepared and performing to the best of your abilities does. There is great joy in working hard at something, mastering it and overcoming fears with dogged persistence. You can trick your mind into believing in yourself. Sometimes I was very scared or nervous to play or speak before an audience. But a wise mother told me that, "audiences really inspire you." I took that to heart and learned to overcome fear by changing my attitude and mind set.

Music allows me to enter a realm that expands my mind and emotions. I can enter a very happy place that is indescribable. One time, Jordon Tang, a doctoral student at the U. of U., asked me to play the piano part of Aaron Copeland's Appalachian Spring with a chamber orchestra. I fell in love with that piece and introduced it to my children. One of my greatest mother moments was when Chase was listening to this piece while showering and he burst out of the bathroom door screaming, "I LOVE that music!" He, too, discovered the great secret of Appalachian Spring!

Suffice it to say that music has brought great joy and happiness into my life. I feel very blessed to have many music opportunities. I love watching and listening to the Utah Symphony. What a spectacle to see fifty plus musicians playing their instruments in sync on the same beat with the conductor, using incredible technique, precision, and passion. They magically transform black and white notes on a page to beautiful music. Wow. That is amazing! Really! Or hearing fifty five kids in Choral Edition focusing on Janette Bischoff's masterful directing in creating beautiful sound, or eighty kids in Kids Are Music. Or watching a bit of joy or even tears of nostalgia on the faces of the elderly as the Heartbeats perform Christmas music, evoking memories of a bygone era.

It is so true that, "Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak." William Congreve (This really is the quote, not "beast" as is often misquoted). It is a powerful source for both good and bad. But when used to edify, it is inspirational, pleasurable and lovely!

Good music and great harmonies. What could be better! Did I mention that before? I am excited for this Christmas season and the beautiful music that accompanies it. The accessibility of music favorites on iTunes,iPods, iPads, Pandora, CD's, tapes, records, and the radio is astounding. In fact, right now I am going to listen to Pandora over my TV system while I clean my house. And it will make me happy!

And by the way, does anyone have extra tickets to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert this year? I would be so obliged! And happy, to say the least!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

RIP, ReNon.

This morning as I, along with many others prepare to attend ReNon Zabriskie's funeral, I can't help but say, "Thanks, ReNon, for being such a beautiful, helpful, wonderful person." ReNon was the kind of person who uplifted all those around her. She was helpful, thoughtful, service-oriented, capable, spiritual, delightful and wonderful. When the Weber Heights Stake and Ogden East Stake were divided some seven years ago, she was one of the very first people who introduced herself to me. We worked together on Youth Extravaganzas, The Messiah, Ogden High School musicals, etc. When working with various committees to set something up, inevitably ReNon's name would pop up as the person to call.

Last night at her viewing, I wrote down a few quotes from the display tables that portrayed her life. They express my sentiments as well.

"When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure."

"Every time that a child is born, so is a grandmother."

Cancer is so limited.
It cannot destroy love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot destroy people.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot suppress memories.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot steal eternal life.
It cannot conquer the Spirit.

As I prepare to say farewell to ReNon, I hope she knows what a bright light she was in my life. I send my condolences and love to the family. And ReNon, may you rest in peace.

Desert Star Playhouse

Tucked away on Main Street in Murray is the delightful Desert Star Playhouse, complete with a fabulous melodrama piano player. I enjoyed a wonderful evening full of laughter and fun while dining and watching, "Hunk-cules" who really acted as though he was too sexy for his toga. I must say that I would love to play the piano for their productions! What a hoot.

This year's productions included:
Back from the Future (What happens in 1985 stays in 1985)
Beverly Hillbillies 90210 (You might be a redneck if ...)
Sheer-Luck Homes (Clueless again)
Goldilocks Capone and the 3 Amigos
Hunk-cules (I'm too sexy for my toga) ...through Sept 24
Legally Brunette (Not all dumbs are blonde) ...Sept. 29-Nov. 12
It's a Wonderful Life (Winging in the holidays) ...Nov. 17-Dec. 31

And next year's productions will include:
CSI:Provo (Decaffeinated DNA)
The Princess Brides Maid
The Addams Family Home Evening
Wicked - er!
My Big Fat Utah Christmas (a new holiday comedy)

Trust me - I don't work for Desert Star (yet) and I am not being paid for this promotion. I simply had a very fun, entertaining evening laughing and smiling while watching their production. Yes, I will be back! General sales for season tickets open September 13. Box Office hours are Monday through Saturday, 10am - 9pm, 4861 S State Street, Murray, Utah 84107, 801-266-2600 or go to www.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Great Outdoors

Mark and I just completed our second pioneer trek last week, the first being four years ago. It is extremely satisfying to see 130 plus teenagers trek over 32 miles on the original Mormon/Oregon trail in the vast expanses of Wyoming. Some of these kids are athletes in their own right, but many have never spent time in the great outdoors to really enjoy and appreciate what life has to offer.
I think everyone felt a great sense of accomplishment in being able to complete something hard,and gaining a better understanding of those ancestors who came across the plains trekking over 1300 miles in adverse conditions with little food and inadequate clothing.

Thirty years ago, from July 7 to August 7, 1981, I spent a month around the Escalante and Boulder Mountain areas of Utah with 32 people from across the United States. We were participants of the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) hiking over 250 miles in the beautiful, great outdoors. It was an incredible, strenuous, character building adventure that I have reflected upon throughout my life.

We traveled from elevations of 5000 to 11,000 feet with temperatures ranging from freezing to 110 degrees. Four of us were from Utah, four from Texas, three from New Mexico, nine from California, two from Pennsylvania, Ohio and Idaho, and one from New York, Colorado, Oregon, Toronto, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Twelve of us were females, 20 were males. I learned many life lessons that month. In a nutshell, I learned that family is extremely important, that the human body is truly amazing, and that there is a God in heaven who loves us, helps us, and watches over us if we will but recognize Him.

"Those who say it can't be done are usually interrupted by those doing it."

Days 1-3, Impact

The first three days were called, "Impact". We had no food, no blankets, canteens,or ponchos. We had only the clothes we were wearing, a jacket, thermos, stocking cap, gloves, plastic bag, long sleeve shirt, bandana, socks and a small first aid kit. The first day was rainy and cold as we trudged through and drank water from the river, filling up an empty can and straining the sand out with a bandana over the top. A couple hours were spent on a blind walk with our eyes blindfolded with a bandana. The idea was to get an increased awareness of one's footing and to learn to trust others in the group. We quickly trained our ears to listen carefully to the sound of feet from the person ahead. It was freezing that first night as we tried to stay warm by huddling together as a group and sapping away someone else's body heat.

If you thought you were hungry today, just wait until tomorrow..

The second day, we hiked from morning till night in blazing hot heat. The only break was jumping into the river, boots and all to try and cool off. We had sore legs, blistered feet, and empty stomachs. On the third day, we hiked and hiked till early evening when we finally reached our base camp. We celebrated that night with a banana and Gatorade. My stomach felt so full I could barely finish off the banana. But I began an appreciation for simple things, like food, a blanket to sleep on and clean water. My base camp bag I had packed was delivered to me that evening so I could change into clean clothes and socks. Whew.

The goal of impact was to gain control of attitude, appetite, and physical condition. I found a lot of strength after completing these three days.

Day 4
Day 4 was Sunday, a day of relaxation and rest; a day to contemplate and write in my journal.

I began to realize how many luxuries I had in life and how many things I took for granted every single day. The strength of the human body is amazing and the will is supreme. The things you tell your mind determine what you can do and accomplish.

"It isn't the mountains that wear you out, it is the grain of sand in your shoe."

Days 5-9, Group Expedition

The guys and gals were split up for the group expedition. Survival was very enjoyable to this point. I did not feel hungry or tired until the end of the week. We did lots of steep hiking and elevation climbs using topo maps to navigate. Day nine had a 25 mile individual hike which began around 6 p.m.and traversed along dirt roads and trails marked with green glow sticks.

Being alone in the beauty of nature lends itself to much inner reflection and I began to ponder many things in my life. Little things popped up as I moved along, bringing a flood of memories to the forefront. It was a spiritual experience. I couldn't help but think of the myriad of feelings and emotions that are recorded somewhere in the folds and creases of our brains.

I thought about the importance of a good childhood, the joy of great memories with my family, and the enrichment of wonderful, good, positive relationships. I pondered the significant role that music has played in my life. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my mom and dad.

During the hike, rain broke out and the road and paths turned to clay which stuck to the soles of my shoes. And I mean really stuck. As the night descended, I couldn't see the trail because of weather and bad eyes (no contacts or glasses) and I got concerned. I was alone in a black, wet, rainy, cold forest in an unknown place with no map. One wrong turn could spell disaster.

Just because it is a well beaten road is no sign it is the right one.

Fortunately, two guys from our group joined up with me from behind and together we found the way. We arrived at our destination around midnight. The last of our group came in around 4:00 a.m. I was dog tired and really hungry for the first time.

It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. Shakespeare

Only 19 days left.

Day 10, Sunday, July 19
Sunday was another day of rest. I needed it.

Breakfast fare was oatmeal and ash cakes made with flour, water and ashes from the fire for leavening. Most everyone took a cool stream bath in 44 degree water. Aahhh, it felt terrific.

Once again I began thinking about values of family, marriage, children, etc. I felt a deep yearning to work on my spiritual side, to learn and study about the great creator and our purpose here on this earthy sojourn. We had a sacrament meeting with a few of us who were LDS. The sacrament was passed using ash cake and a canteen of water. It felt good to renew my covenants with Christ once again and pay homage to the Creator in such a primitive setting.

Day 11 to 16, Survival Week, July 20-25
Day 11 began with killing a big sheep which was then skinned, hung on a tree, quartered and divided into parts among five stations. The idea was to realize the significance that this animal sacrificed its life for our survival. I developed almost a reverence and greater appreciation for all meat in general.

In the five stations we:
1. Tanned the hide;
2. Made sweet bread dough to cook in the stomach;
3. Made sausage with the small and large intestines;
4. Learned how to cook meat in a pit; and
5. Made jerky by smoking the meat over a willow tripod.

We dug a big pit by the stream, lined it with branches, placed the meat inside, covered it with a damp, cool towel and put fresh, wet willows over the top. We also made a steam pit by lining a large hole with rocks. A fire was lit on the rocks which made ashes in the cracks. The fire burned through the night and the next morning, we put in the meat, covered it with hot rocks and grass and let it steam throughout the day.

I was really fatigued and ready for some good protein. The meal tasted soooo good. We added carrots, onions, potatoes and the like to round out the meal. The jerky was divided up to eat at future times.

Friday, July 24th rolled in and I was quite done with survival. I was glad to have come on this "trip" but I also wished it was finished. It reminded me of the year I spent in Japan (age 20), teaching English at a private Buddhist University. I was really glad I came, I didn't want to quit, but I sure wished I were home.

Comfort is not essential to survival, and is often valued too highly. You must value your life more than comfort and be willing to tolerate heat, hunger, dirt, itching, pain and almost any discomfort. If you expose yourself to self-pity because you have a blister and think you can't walk another mile, you have not thought the situation through.

As my mind pondered the 24th of July, my thoughts went to my pioneer ancestors and the sacrifices they went through, all because of their great faith in believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ and their undying hope for a brighter future in "Zion". Great sacrifices were made to come west. My ancestors began their long journeys in England and Denmark, embarking upon a long sea voyage across the big blue before their weeks of traveling westward.

I had completed two weeks of my survival course and could hardly wait for the next two to pass. I dreamed of the things I would do upon my arrival at home. They included:
1. Take a bath and shave my legs.
2. Wash my hair.
3. Lotion my skin.
4. Clean and clip my fingernails and toenails.
5. Brush and floss my teeth.

Pretty shallow compared to what the pioneers would be doing upon entering the valley. They had to concern themselves with building a home, planting a garden, gathering wood for fires to keep warm during the winter months, setting up schools for the children, making clothes, basic survival and keeping their faith and beliefs strong.

To break up the routine, we decided to have our own Christmas in the desert. We drew names and had a couple days to come up with some type of homemade gift for that person.

"Christmas" arrived on Sunday, July 26th and was really fun. We held sacrament meeting and enjoyed a really great meal of chicken stew complete with carrots, potatoes, cabbage and TVP, and sides of ash cakes with honey and watermelon for dessert. The watermelon was undescribably good!

We then began the gift exchange. I drew Susan Arthur's name and made a wooden pendant for her from a cross piece I cut from a branch. I carved out her name on the face along with a fern design and made a willow chain to hang it on along with a set of willow chopsticks. It turned out pretty cute!

Mary drew my name and gave me the carved log (above) which still sits on my bookshelf today. Although I don't recall any of the other gifts that were exchanged, I remember how clever people were.

Let us cherish the bread before there is none, discover each other before we leave, and enjoy each other for what we are while we have time.

Student Expedition, July 27-30
The most strenuous and dangerous part of my survival experience began with the Student Expedition. We were divided into small groups of 4-5 people each and given a destination, a set of Topo maps, and a destination spot to meet at the end of the week on Friday. I ended up with a group of four, excellent, very fit runners, Tami, Sue, Casey and Carolyn.

All day Monday we bushwhacked down a mountain, hit Stair Canyon and hiked many miles at a fast pace. I was hot and exhausted, having never worked so hard physically in my life. When we finally sat down to rest and I kept blacking out and literally could not see anything but black. After a bit I could see, but my vision was blurry, my head was spinning, and my pack felt like it was crushing my back and stomach. We traveled on for several more miles when I nearly fell down to my knees from exhaustion. I could hardly breath. Panic ran through me because I knew there was no way I could continue at that pace, but there was no way out. Finally, the four girls sat me down, made me drink lots of water, eat some raisins and just relax. I was so sick to my stomach I thought I was going to die. I began to feel a little better and so we continued on a few more miles. There was no other choice! I remember watching Sue directly in front of me, and literally followed her footsteps, one by one. My left knee went out of kilt and started aching every time I bent it. I started praying hard because I was a mess!

We stopped in Water Canyon, the first place with water in the Gulch and camped for the night. We cooked some stew with bullion for dinner. The evening was beautiful with endless stars sparkling all night long. In the morning, we ate cornmeal mush with powdered milk and some ash cakes with raisins and honey. I felt 100% better.

Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.

We began hiking at dawn and hit the trail hard. Although I felt better physically, my knee was really hurting. I started praying pretty earnestly for a miracle. We had days and miles to go before reaching our destination on Friday. With the state of my knee, I honestly didn't know how I could do it.

We were instructed to leave a note at a cairn by a cabin. As we hiked down to the cabin, low and behold we ran into another group of girls from our expedition. I felt so much elation because this group was given the shortest, easiest route for the week. What a tender mercy and an answer to prayer. I switched groups and was so glad I did, because for that day and the rest of survival, my knee had so much pain I could hardly bend my leg. This group had one "problem child" who was young, (16), immature, and a bit heavy and out of shape. I had no problem keeping up with them even with my painful knee. Their route, however, was not easy. We spent hours bushwhacking down Deer Creek with willows smacking our faces, twisted ankles on mossy rocks, steep inclines, heat, aching joints, and a hurt knee. Everyone was so mad at "problem child" and so fatigued, they were about ready to kill each other. Finally, around 5:00 p.m., we decided to stop and camp. We made dinner, went skinny dipping, washed our clothes and hung them up to dry, gave foot massages (thank you, Susan!) and had a great time.

In the morning, we slept in, cooked breakfast, went skinny dipping again, rinsed our hair and felt terrific! I even cleaned my fingernails. It was the cleanest I had been the whole trip. We hiked down Deer Creek , hit the Escalante, hiked a few miles upstream, and continued throughout the week. Just before Friday, we met up with Tami, Sue Casey and Carolyn!

Casey pulled a groin muscle so they cut off part of their route. They said their route was brutal, extremely hard and not much fun. I was soooo glad I was able to switch groups.

It's a hurting day Lord! A good day for learning. No man knows how much he can endure until he must. Richard L. Evans

Solo Week, July 30-August 5
Alone is good company.

Everyone was separated and given a cave or designated area to spend the last week alone. No hiking, no navigating, just surviving alone in a small area. Solo week was wonderful and worth every minute of pain, hunger, or frustration.

We were given food for the week consisting of:
2-3 cups of flour,
2 cups of rice,
3 carrots,
1/2 onion,
1 potato,
3 cups oatmeal,
2 cups powdered milk,
10 honey packets,
dried soy beans,
TVP and
10 bullion cubes.

I arranged my cave into the kitchen and sleeping areas. The kitchen had a small fire pit, fire wood, all my food, a small and large billy can, juniper bark, char cloth, flint, a steal knife and two wooden spoons that I made.
The sleeping area had my poncho as a ground cloth, my wool blanket, night clothes (thermos, sweatshirt, hat, wool socks, jacket), books, comb, personal supplies, etc.

All went well with one snafu. In the middle of the pitch, black night, something started rustling the food in my "kitchen." I couldn't see what it was so I hid my head under the covers, hoping not to be attacked by a mountain lion, badger, skunk,or some other wild thing.

The next day, I discovered that something had eaten all my raisins but one and feasted on the flour and oatmeal. Later on, a big huge rat or ground hog ran into my cave and ran straight for the food. I hurled some big rocks at it which scared it away and lit a fire. I kept the fire alive from then on and had no more trouble with animals.

The rest of the week was glorious. I read The Holocaust, Man Search for Meaning, scriptures, wrote in my journal, etc. I had lots of time to write down goals, evaluate my experience, and proceed forward with a new frame of mind.

Please do not pierce the boundaries of my hearing. Today I wish to remain in the depths of silence. Silence is golden and within its boundaries are great works achieved. Brad Q. Ottley

The Conclusion

Solo week ended with a reunion of the group, more hiking, a fun repel off a mountain, dinner, a bit of sleep, and waking up at 3:00 a.m for a final fifteen mile run to the bus to go home. No more sand, dirt, bugs, ants, mosquitoes, flies, rations, rats, etc.

Man's mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions. Oliver Wendell Holmes

Some Final Thoughts

I discovered many things about myself and life during this survival experience.

What appears to be the end may really be a new beginning.

I learned much about gratitude and attitude. I learned about who I am. I learned to have faith in Heavenly Father and rediscovered the importance of family, relationships, small kindnesses. I learned the value of simple things. Shannon was the most giving, helpful person in our group. If there was only a bit of food or a small pothole of water, she would share or give up her portion to someone else. Even when we were all dog tired, she would work hard to collect firewood and start the fire at night.

I learned how great the great outdoors is, how it is to be respected, how good it feels to be physically fit and to eat nutritious food, to have a controlled appetite, to have discipline over our attitude, the importance of a journal, and most importantly, to rely on the Lord.

Thirty years later, I reflect upon this experience as one of the most meaningful things I have done. In that light, I give thanks to my pioneer ancestors who were steadfast and faithful in their beliefs and desires in making all the difference in my life as well.

Happy July 24th!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Half Year Check Up

January of 2011 marked the first year to compile an annual family yearbook for my larger family of Southwicks. Subtitled, "Family histories as told by themselves," everyone was invited to compile something about his/her year in review and include goals, aspirations or resolutions. I enjoyed reading everyone's entries and each person's perspectives, likes and desires. I learned many things about my rellies.

Half the year is now passed and past. I figure it's time to check up on my New Year's Resolutions (which were pretty much plagiarized and borrowed with a few of my own).

My 2011 Resolutions are:

1. I will take a walk or get some other exercise every day, and especially when I feel stressed.
2. I will remind myself that there are no problems, only "opportunities for personal and professional growth.
3. I will do something every day that makes me laugh out loud.
4. I will take more risks. Everything you want is just outside of your comfort zone.
5. I will worry about only one thing at a time, if I worry at all.
6. I will eat right 90% of the time, and eat whatever I want 10% of the time.
7. I will send out a lot of "Thank You" cards.
8. I will focus each day on something I can do to help another person, preferably unknown to that person.
9. I will not agree to do things simply because someone asks me to.
10. I will get as much sleep as I need to be happy, healthy, and fun to be around.
11. I will focus on what went right every day, instead of what went wrong.
12. I will take long, hot baths or showers as often as I need them to relax.
13. I will find at least five new, really healthy foods that I actually enjoy, and eat them.
14. I will ask myself, "Will this thing really matter in 150 years?"
15. I will walk to more places - like to church, to a friend's house, etc. and park in a distant stall from my destination.
16. I will be thankful for everything.

To date, I have done #12 really well. In fact, I have never had a year that I have soaked in the bath tub so long and enjoyed it so much. I have done pretty well with seven more resolutions and the other half (yes, that would be eight), not so well. In fact, I totally forgot some of them. How can I ever hope to make changes in my life when I forget what changes I wanted to make? It is not that I don't need to make the changes, but rather I feel it would be an improvement to make the changes.

So for the second half of this year, I desire to become more aware and focused in these areas. I feel that self improvement leads to self discovery. If that self discovery is guided by the spirit, then I feel I am becoming closer to the source of my maker in doing His will. That is really my ultimate resolution, to be more like Him. Trust me, I know, and my kids will remind me, that I have a long way to go. But recognition is key to change and so I begin Part II of 2011.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Twenty Seven Years in the Matrimonial Swim!

Twenty seven years ago today, Mark and I jumped into the matrimonial swim and tied the knot! This was after a ten year courtship. Ten years. Plus twenty seven years of marriage. Wow! It has been a wonderful journey full of love, learning and adventure. Our wedding invitation/book best sums up our story leading to this momentous day. It was entitled, "At Last."

From 1974 ---


Their first date was pleasant and over the years,
they socialized for quite awhile
When it was convenient and easy to do.
Now this was their usual style.

Meg had her music and schooling for law
and Mark had a goal in his mind
To be an M.D., so off to that end-
Toward marriage they seemed disinclined.

There were letters, phone calls, trips and the like-
Non-committal and friendly and great.
But nothing too binding to satisfy both
who wanted a more solid state.

On birthdays or Christmas or Easter or such
Their families and friends all would fret.
And ask Meg in hope, "Did he give you a ring?"
She'd smilingly say, "No, not yet."

But this year at Christmas the ring did appear
And her eyes shone in joy unsurpassed.
The wishing is over - the wedding is near
and the families and friends sigh, "At Last."

To 1984 ---

Thursday, June 21, 1984 was a warm, sunny, beautiful day. We met family and friends at the Salt Lake Temple for our afternoon marriage and sealing.

Yes, there were the funny things that happened that day, like Mark forgetting his tuxedo, being locked out of his house, and finally getting a neighbor with a key to let him in to get it; and me waiting for Mark in the temple for forty-five minutes after the sealing only to realize that I was waiting in the wrong place. Our guests patiently waited for us at the wedding dinner wondering where we were. Hmmmm.

But there were also very serious, wonderful things that happened that day as well.
Wayne M. Beck officiated and gave us some great advice. He spoke of our purpose on earth and the eternal plan of the family. He spoke of the significance of having three witnesses at our ceremony. He related a passage from I John 5:7-8, where John the beloved said, "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water and the blood; and these three agree in one." Brother Beck then went on to explain that these three witnesses are present at crucial times in our earthly existence; namely birth, baptism, marriage and death.

Moses 6:59 states: "That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so become of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory."

He encouraged us to be loving, kind and considerate of each other and to live our lives in harmony and balance with the Lord's teachings.

Over the years I have saved various pieces of marital advice with attempts to assimilate them into my life. Here are a few I have gleaned:
Always be yourself. You are one-of-a-kind and attempts to imitate someone else will only dilute you.

Always do your best, not for show or to please someone else, but simply because to do less weakens character.

Accept that you are not perfect and don't fret over mistakes. Just try not to repeat the same ones twice. I'm sure that if you live life with zest, there will always be plenty of new mistakes to be discovered.

Take risks. If you fall down, get up and don't be afraid of falling down again. Only those who do nothing never fall.

Don't take things personally. People are usually too self-centered to slight others intentionally. And even if they do it purposely, the only important thing is how you feel about yourself.

Laugh a lot, particularly at yourself. Others then can't laugh at you but only with you.

Don't be afraid of crying. Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes it hurts so bad you don't think you can go on - but you do. And tears really do help wash away the sorrows.

Then again, sometimes life is so joyful you actually do shed tears of happiness.

Love a lot and not just your new husband. Love friends, love nature, love beauty, love learning, love waking up in the morning, and find work and a worthy cause you can love. Pat Bean, Standard Examiner, 29 June 2002

Zeda Haws had her own Ten Commandments for a Good Marriage:
1. Thou shalt love each other unconditionally.
2. Thou shalt be dedicated to your union and there shall be no secrets.
3. Thou shalt handle money wisely, live within your means, and plan your expenditures together.
4. Thou shalt not over indulge, but do all things in moderation.
5. Thou shalt develop a social life together, but value each of your individual needs.
6. Thou shalt be forgiving and hold no grudges.
7. Thou shalt look at adversity as an opportunity for later laughter and immediate growth.
8. Thou shalt be prepared to give more than you get.
9. Thou shalt be expected, together, to give service and support to your community.
10.Thou shalt raise your children together with love and commitment for they are your immortality.

June is a wonderful month for weddings, especially the 21st which is the first day of summer, the summer solstice, and the longest day of the year. Having attended several weddings this month, I rejoice in the happiness and joy for the new brides and grooms. But along with my smiles comes a long, reflective sigh. I really relate to the words of a poem entitled, The Wedding Reception by Martha P. Taysom:
I've reprinted the words with a few (inserts) of my own.

I sit and watch her.
My pastel punch and thick-iced cake
(On delicate plate)
Balance awkwardly on my knee.

I think of me 12 (or twenty-seven) years before.

Her smile beams
First on this reception guest,
Then that.
Sometimes blushing,
Sometimes laughing,
Always turning
Eyes of admiration to the handsome groom.

Should I tell her?
Tell her of face-downed peanut-buttered bread
On new-mopped floor?
Of a two-year-old stretched out
and kicking angrily
In the grocery store
(And everybody watching)?

Can I tell her
Tell her of the almost-can't cope days?
The lonely evenings
Waiting for bishopric meeting (surgeries)
To end?

Will I tell her?
Tell her of the terrifying cry
Of croup
Deep in night?
Or the quickened step
Of the home teacher
Summoned to help administer
To a feverish brow?
(Or the loss of a child?)

But neither can I share with her
The thrill of a newborn's nose
Bobbing in my neck;
The pride of seeing a six-year-old
Begin to read.

I cannot tell her
Of a husband's gentle touch
On my hand
As we pass briefly
In the chapel foyer.

Standing, I brush away the crumbs
From my not-so-new dress,
And wave a little
To the bride
Across the room.

Ensign, April 2005

I could have never planned, designed or dreamed the things I have experienced in our marriage. It has shaped us into who we are --and we happily choose to continue the swim together!

As Mark and I drove south along Harrison Boulevard to embark upon our honeymoon we couldn't help but laugh when we saw the United Savings Bank marquee (now the Flying J Headquarters)flashing in bright neon lights, "To Mark and Meg,

Thank you, Mark. Thank you for being a wonderful husband and father. I love you. You have enriched my life and made me happy. You are my best friend and confidante. I look forward to celebrating our anniversary today and June 21st for many, many years!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Small Things of Life

For my friends in Ogden

What might one say of small things?

That they are the things that bring few surprises, that cause no sudden rush of emotion, no gasp, nor wonderment, but which give our lives the texture we recognize so well.

The familiar is but its very definition always there;

The familiar is by its repetition rather like a tune we learn as children, stubbornly present; good old 4/4 time or the insistent metre Longfellow used when he wrote Hiawatha.

Lin Yutang, who wrote such charming essays on reading, and drinking tea, and the conditions that offend flowers, asked a much bigger question when he said: what is patriotism but the love of the good things we ate in childhood?

He expected no answer: Rhetorical questions never do;

But he was wrong:

Patriotism is more than that,

But the good things we ate in childhood certainly were good; as were the summers and the friends we had, and everything that lodges in the cobwebby corners of memory.

If you were to ask me how I would like the rest of my life to be, I would say the same. The same friends are the ones I want about me; the same places are the places I want to wake up to.

The world is wide, but it is the corners that are comfortable; so too in our lives small things remain, reassure us.

Moments with friends and family, inconsequential remarks. These things mean the world; they mean the world.

Alexander McCall Smith

Fall Author Event for the Ogden School Foundation

One side note to this, I love meeting new people, making new friends, and exploring different places. That, too, adds to the fabric of my life.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thoughts on My Mom

Sunday was Mother's Day. Fortunately for me, I was able to be with my mom and dad to enjoy their company and express heartfelt sentiments. My parents are now in their eighties. They enjoy good health. They have had wonderful, fulfilling lives, devoting time and effort to their children and grandchildren. I love them for that.

When I was about eight, my mom gave each of the children a notebook and asked us to write down the things we liked and didn't like about her. Today while going through some old files, I found the things I wrote.
What I Like About My Mother
"Mother, I like you because you cook for me and buy me new clothes. And you are so patient with me when I am sick. I love you very much. You are so nice when you let my friends come and play with me. You keep the house so very, very clean. That's the part I like. You cook the best meals I have ever tasted. Sometimes when you leave you get a baby sitter for us. You were very nice when you took us to Grandma's house and when you took us to the college ranch when it was raining. You are nice when you take the time to go to the store and get us kids play things. You take your money for Mrs. Price to clean our house. And you went down to Grand Central and got me this tablet to write this with. You don't have to do it but you give me piano lessons. You got the gas log for us to keep warm. I LOVE YOU."

What I Hate About My Mother
"I don't like it when you don't let me go to places like when you don't let me sleep with Joyce or when you don't let friends sleep with me. I don't like it when you are cross and angry and swear. I don't like it when you ground me. I can't think of any more things except when you won't take us to the store. I don't like it when you make us tend and when you make us do the dishes."
By Meg Southwick (about age 8 or 9)

Do I sense an aversion to work or curtailment on my freedoms? Well, OK. There you have it! The good, the bad, the likes, the hates. After twenty five years of parenting, my list of "What I Like/Hate About My Mother" has changed. Alot.

I look at the timeless gifts wrapped in love that my mother bestowed upon each of her children. My mother has risen above the worldly import of being a person of success and has focused her life on being a person of value. What distinction do I make between a mother of success and a mother of value? A mother of success in a worldly sense does things more for her own gratification or satisfaction whereas a mother of value does things for the good of her family. A mother of success is concerned with end results. A mother of value is concerned with the process. Albert Einstein put it in these terms (and I paraphrase this): "The successful [wo]man takes more out of life than [s]he puts into it; while the [wo]man of value gives more to life than [s]he takes out of it."

I once worked as a prosecutor in Juvenile Court. So many times I found myself wanting to take the kids I filed petitions against (the adult system would call these criminal charges) and parent them. They needed love, guidance, security and direction. Some would never have a healthy chance at life because of the terrible parenting and horrible, dysfunctional homes they were forced to live in. Yes, I am being judgmental in my portrayals because to me, that is exactly what it was. Terrible parenting. Tremendous obstacles with fetal alcohol syndromes, drug addictions at birth, physical and mental abuses in the home, yada yada yada.

My favorite poster in the office said, "Good kids don't just happen." So true. It was extremely evident that kids with total freedoms and no discipline or boundaries as children fell into an upside down V pattern representing total freedoms at the bottom and locked down confinement at the top. Children and youth with few or no boundaries often enter the "system" that forces upon them appropriate behaviors with institutionalized curtailments such as detentions, probation parameters, etc. Many face incarcerations in jails or prisons as adults, representing the tip of the upside down V having little to no freedoms whatsoever.

Contrast that with a V pattern in healthy homes. Good parents give children restricted freedoms until teaching and responsibility safely allow expansions into realms where freedoms are appropriate. Societal patterns and norms are taught along with social appropriateness. Ideally as children grow and mature, the V continues to widen until freedoms are endless because of good choices and responsible behaviors.

Being a person of value, my mom encouraged each of us to excel in something. She devoted many hours of her time in helping us find our passion. For my oldest brother, it was taking care of animals.

We had a family dog, but his interests soon grew to include frogs, fish, lizards, tadpoles, salamanders, turtles, snakes, iguanas, horn toads, etc. My brother turned our furnace room into his personal zoo. My mom had shelves built along the walls and over time, my brother amassed over ten aquariums and terrariums.

One day before school, my brother plugged the floor drain in the washroom and the space under the door with towels. After flooding the floor with water he let his two Caiman alligators swim around. My mom was shocked and not amused. She took my brother out of school to clean up the room and put the alligators away. But she still let him keep them.

Another time, he ordered a red tailed hawk from South America which surprised my mom when it was delivered to our house. Our neighbor helped Edward build a cage for it with wood and chicken wire. "Fluffy" became our family project. We took turns getting fresh meat scraps from George at George's Market to feed him. The meat also fed two piranhas.

When my brother was about ten, he went to Yellowstone with his friend. He asked me to feed his animals with the following note:

Alligator: 8 fish every day. Kind of big but not too big.
Brown turtle: 2 fish
Little turtle: 1 little fish
Green turtle: feed on Saturday 1 little fish
Lizard: 8 ants a day - turn light off at 8 p.m. Turn on at 7 a.m.
Big fish: 5 sprinkles a day
Little fish: pinchful of food - turn light on at 8 a.m.
Mosquito fish: goldfish food
Bring frog cages in.
Do all this and you get a surprise.

My younger brother, Jim, was fascinated with electronics. His room was full of wires, buzzers, CB radios, and the like. He got his HAM radio license at age 13 and communicated with people from all over the US and other countries. He still loves electronics and has enjoyed a very fun, fulfilled life with his hobby. He has been John Densmore's webmaster (drummer and songwriter for "The Doors") for many years.

In the Doctrine and Covenants 60:14 it reads, "I give unto them a commandment thus: Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known." My mom firmly believes if a child has a talent, it is the parent's responsibility to help him/her develop it.

Both my sister and I began taking piano lessons very young. My mom spent hours with us each week on the piano bench, correcting buckling knuckles and counting out rhythms. She spared no expense in getting us the best music teachers she could find. Not only did she drive me thirty-five miles to Salt Lake for my lessons, she also recorded them so that I could listen to my teacher, Gladys Gladstone repeat the lesson, correct any mistakes, phrase the music, and be ready for the next lesson. Her efforts have brought many experiences of untold joy and inner satisfaction to both my sister and I as we have shared this talent with others.

Every Christmas we got, "do-kits". These were briefcases filled with markers, paper, crayons, paste, scissors and a box of Band-aids. Don't all kids love Band-aids? We spent hours projecting together. My favorite room in my house today is the craft room. I think I have passed down to my children the love of paper, markers, crayons, paste, scissors and Band-aids and of course, scrapbook supplies! I pride myself on being able to complete any project without going to the store.

One year modge-podge was all the rage. My mom, being a person of value, decided that our family should get acquainted with the world's greatest artists and their masterpieces. She bought a large book containing fifty of the most revered paintings. For a summer project, we modge-podged the prints onto plywood boards. It took a long time because we had to stain, sand and seal each one. She pasted background information about the painting and artist on the back of the boards then hung them in the basement.

One day in elementary school, my teacher showed us "Sunflowers" by Van Gogh.

She explained how revolutionary he was for his time and such a genius. I quickly raised my hand and said that my mom owned that piece and I could bring it to school to show the class. To this day, he is one of my favorite artists. I cried the day I saw "Starry Night" at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris.

I am always amazed at the masterful way Jesus Christ dealt with the Pharisees, the scribes, the elders, the sick and afflicted, the needy, the wealthy, the poor, the learned, etc. He loved everyone and served them regardless of rank or status. My mom has similar traits to this. She finds the good in everyone and has always encouraged us to treat people in all walks of life with dignity and respect.

My mom exposed us to cultural and social diversity at a very young age. I am sure we were the only family in the neighborhood who subscribed to "Ebony." We often took Christmas to the poor, clothes to the needy, and music to the lonely. While on vacation, she and my Dad met a girl in Mexico whose dream was to get an education in the U.S. They invited and sponsored Irma to live in the U.S. with us. Frightened and timid, she enrolled at Weber State University, speaking broken English and having difficulty understanding her professors. Imagine the pride of my parents when she not only graduated from WSU with a B.S. degree but continued on to get a Masters Degree from the University of Utah and a PhD from Kansas University. She is now a tenured professor at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo but still "comes home" to be with us for Christmas.

Motherhood is a learning process you never graduate from. It is rich with bounteous, joyful experiences. President Kimball said, "Motherhood is a holy calling, a sacred dedication for carrying out the Lord's work, a consecration and devotion to the rearing and fostering the nurturing of body, mind and spirit of those who kept their first estate and who came to this earth for their second estate to learn and to be tested and to work toward godhood."

Motherhood is not always easy. Children bring such pleasure -- and sometimes grief. The highs are higher and the lows are lower. "Men are that they might have joy." This joy is partly recognized from opposition.

I love my mom and my children. I love my dad and husband, too. I pray for guidance and strength to be a mother of value over a mother of success and wish my mom a Happy Mother's Day!