Thursday, December 28, 2006

Listening In

I love "listening in." I remember when I was a little girl I could listen in on neighbors who were talking on the phone because we had a party line. I sat on the floor under the kitchen table so I could listen in on my mom's conversations with her sisters or her friends. That's actually how I learned about the real world.

Dee is a great listener. We've been invited to join people for dinner when his not so subtle stares and expressions have indicated he was already a part of their conversation!

One time we were at a restaurant in Amsterdam and the three people sitting behind us were speaking English. We started listening to the man directly behind Dee. He was telling a story of when he was an emergency room doctor and a man was brought in by ambulance. The man and his wife had returned home to discover a robber in their house. The man chased him to the sliding door and then banged into it, breaking the window and cutting himself in the process. When they returned home from the hospital, the wife tried to clean the blood off the drapes with a solvent, and then poured the rest down the toilet. The husband went into the bathroom, sat down, and lit a cigarette to relax as he finished his business. Then he dropped the cigarette into the toilet. The solvent was still clinging to the side of the toilet bowl and the spark ignited, and blew up! The poor man's butts (both) were on fire! The wife called the ambulance, and the same ambulance men came to rescue him. As they were carrying him down the stairs on a stretcher the wife told the story of how it had happened and they started laughing so hard they dropped their patient and he fell down the stairs, and broke his arm! Not a good day for him.

As we listened in on this story, Dee was shaking with laughter so hard his chair was bumping against the chair of the doctor behind him who was actually telling it. We were trying not to be too obvious, as we snuck a look when they left their table. The man was very familiar looking, and Dee recognized him as the doctor who had been on TV locally because of a recent story about Barney Clark's heart operation. Without thinking Dee blurted out, "Dr. DeVries!" The doctor turned and Dee galantly stepped up and introduced himself, complimented him on his medical work and wished him happy travels. The doctor was somewhat confused, but responded politely and went on his way. Since then we remind ourselves to be more circumspect by warning each other, "Dr. DeVries..."

I am reminded of this because reading blogs makes me feel like I'm listening in on someone's private conversation. I'm often entertained, I learn more about real life, and I gain empathy for people I don't know and the struggles and challenges they're having. It's giving me depth.

I read an article by Alvaro Vargas LLosa referring to the internet: "The web's orderly chaos leads to high social ends." It said, "The result (of the information age) will be an enhanced awareness of other people. That will probably not be enough to eradicate fear and mistrust altogether, but it will hold it in check, and the world will be freer and more prosperous for more and more people." Listening in has given me a new perspective on the world. I think it's an opportunity for growth.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Friends Through Time and Space

What's happened to my friends?

I'm on my high school reunion committee with the assignment to search for "missing" classmates. As I pour over their names I remember so much about some of them. I know who made out with whom and where. I know what books their dad read. I know when they got their first bra, and where their mom hid the key to the freezer in the garage where she was keeping dozens of cookies for her Christmas Open House, ("uh-oh...sorry mom. They were??? Stop yelling!")

These are the friends I grew up with, who influenced me for good and bad, who understood me when my world seemed like a rollercoaster that my parents were oblivious to. (I had great parents...I just kept my ups and downs away from them since they didn't seem that interested in the enormity of who I sat by at lunch). I've lost track of most of them. We've had lives and marriages, kids and grandkids...the rollercoaster has had huge hills and I'm sure we've all been motion sick lots of the time. The friends of my past helped me become myself.

I married my true best friend and the old friends became the memories I told him about as we established our new life together.

Then I found the friends that helped me raise my kids, those I've worked with and served with, cried with and loved like sisters. I think of them often with love and gratitude as I use their recipes, remember tending their kids, unwrap a Christmas decoration they gave me, or sing one of the songs we sang together. Their support kept me upright through times I wanted to lay down and cry, or lay down and die, and they helped me laugh and remember how fun my life really was. I don't see most of them anymore, although some I would count as true sisters.

Now I have 7 kids and 7 in-law kids who have become my best friends. Sixteen grandkids share my time and energy with me. I have siblings who I've realized are true, and lasting friends, and aunts I have used to replace my mom. Trying to stay connected to all these folks leaves me little time or interest in making new friends. I've made some recently, but these are surface friendships without depth. We haven't got deep background, or years to invest in getting familiar with all the ups and downs, and ins and outs of each others lives. There's an understanding that we are friends for here and now, with no huge committments of getting involved in the nitty gritty. We already have people for that.

This brings me to my point. Why do I get such enjoyment from blogging? Reading about people I'll never meet, sharing interests and experiences and thoughts with total strangers? Or writing something heartfelt and sending it into the great unknown wondering if I'm connecting with anyone at all?

I read a quote that says "Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure; it is work." Luckily I have lots of people I love and who love me. My life's work is actively loving them. It's everything I care about doing. But for leisure it's fun to have random people who take no work at all. I can choose several blogs from different facets of interest, learn from them, be entertained, be stimulated and inspired, and never know if their kids are on drugs, or their mom has cancer. They are available whenever I am. I don't need to get dressed or pick up the house, drive anywhere or even know where they live. It's a selfish relationship. I can give whatever I feel like giving, and I can take as much as I want. But I think what I give and take adds something to me, replenishes me somehow so I have more to offer the people I love. I picture the blogosphere like space, and I can go out there anytime and get my batteries recharged by millions of stars, and come back a brighter person. And that's what friends are for.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


"In spite of illness, in spite even of sorrow, one can remain alive long past the date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things and happy in small ways." Edith Wharton

It's a Wonderful Life

I believe in life after death, but I believe in life before death, too! I just read something negative about aging and it made me think of a lady I know who is 96. She just got back from a trip to China. She is planning on going to Alaska in the spring. On the other hand, I recieved a Christmas card from a friend who is 57, telling me about the various tests and scans she's having, how she's scared to be alone in case she has a stroke, how her husband is visiting their grandkids after Christmas but she's not going because she's afraid to fly...which of these ladies is living and which one is dying? Getting older doesn't have anything to do with it!

I see advertisements lately that push one product or another (often meds, or beauty products, insurance, retirement accounts, etc.) that make it sound like if we eat better, prepare more, or have the right hair color we won't get old. I've even heard people comment that if so and so had lost weight, or had the right doctor, or whatever, that he wouldn't have died, insinuating that a wise person wouldn't be so irresponsible as to die. That seems silly to me. The older we get, the more likely it is that we'll die. And if we don't die first, we will get old! I'm not being morbid. I just think that instead of worrying about aging, we should concentrate on life! It's too wonderful to miss.

I'm now past middle age (if middle age is halfway) and I have all the experience of 57 years. That gives me some perspective and I hope some wisdom. I love knowing what I know, and I can't wait to learn the rest! I remember my 30-year-old body like it's an old friend. I'm trying to become friends with the one I have now. I look at my grandchildren and marvel at their soft skin, and unwrinkled hands, how darling they look while they are so perfect and innocent, how confident and un-selfconscious they are, unaware that their legs are short, their tummies protruding, that they are bald and toothless. I realize I was that way once upon a time, too. I don't even remember myself then. I'm sure I didn't appreciate the way I looked and how everything about me functioned efficiently. It took getting older to learn that. I actually think I'd rather appreciate things than be too innocent to even notice them. Experience is worth the price of aging.

The inside of me is still young. My 90-year-old grandma once told me that she always felt the same inside, and when she looked in the mirror she was surprised at the old lady that stared back at her. She couldn't believe the mirror! I assume my 96-year-old traveling friend thinks that way, too. I'm afraid my 57-year-old friend believes the mirror.

Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus who gave us the chance for life after death. But first He taught us how to live this life. It's wonderful!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Christmas at Grama's

Christmas always makes me think about the past, friends, family and often my Grama Bagley. She was chubby and plump (a right jolly old elf) like I have become. She had gray hair most of the time although I do remember her having a tinge of blue or pink when that was the Grama trend. She wore dresses and aprons, and nylons rolled at the knee so they would stay up without a girdle, and she wore black grama shoes with laces and stacked heels. She was definitely soft and squishy like a giant stuffed toy.

I remember going to her house at Christmastime to bake sugar cookies. She had really cool cookie cutters and she'd roll out the dough with flour on her kitchen table and then I got to cut the cookies out. While she transferred them to the cookie sheet, I'd eat the scraps. Scraps from dough that has already been rolled out is even better than the actual cookies! She decorated them like an artist. She even used paint brushes, and her Santa Claus cookies had coconut covering the frosting for the beard. She used red hots, and silver ball candies and sprinkles, and the frosting was made with real butter so they tasted as good as they looked. Grama could decorate cookies very fast, and my feeble attempts usually left me disappointed and impatient. There was a room behind the kitchen that wasn't heated and was used to store old furniture and boxes of clothes. That is where Grama set up a table with a big marble slab where she would dip chocolates. She made the fudge, caramel, divinity and nut centers first, and then smeared some melted chocolate on the slab. She quickly rolled the center in the chocolate and made a tiny swirl decoration on the top to indicate which center was inside. It was fun to watch her at work.

In the living room a quilt was usually set up. The furniture was pushed back to line the walls of the small room and the kids would play under the quilt while Grama and her friends sat around chatting and quilting. Their legs all looked the same from that vantage point, with the rolled stockings and clunky shoes, knees apart as they reached under the quilt to stitch. I learned who was "expecting" and what that implied while I was laying underneath the quilt staring at the pattern of stitches. It looked so different from the design being created on the top, with all the pieces of contrasting fabric telling stories of log cabins and sunflower girls and building blocks.

It occurred to me that looking at the quilt from the bottom was like looking at life while we're in it. Heavenly Father is seeing the beautiful pattern from above, and knows how it will all turn out, while we're wondering if anything worthwhile can come from the pokes and knots we see from our perspective down here. I'm the age Grama was when I was little. It would be so fun to visit her as she was then and as I am now. I really think we would be good friends. Maybe thinking about her this way is a way to visit her. Merry Christmas, Grama

Monday, December 4, 2006


I'm toying with the idea that I may not always be right. Don't quote me on it; it's still just hovering on the edge of my mind. It's always been a comfortable "given." After all, I was raised by a man who was always right and I assumed I'd recieve the mantle directly from him. (It was awkward when he was alive because there were several years when I thought I had the inheritance already, and he still thought it was his.) Anyway, it seems like it would be very relaxing to allow other people to be right, too. Dee says it isn't always a case of right or wrong, people can just be different. That's been a hard concept for me to understand. The reason I bring this up is because it's becoming more difficult to carry on a multitude of debates in my mind with people who will never hear my opinion or be changed by it.

I was listening to the radio this morning and I was asked to give money to "Shop with a Cop." I know it would be generous, but I'm not going to do it. So I started explaining in my mind why I couldn't possibly donate to Shop with a Cop. Immediately afterwards there was a plea for my loose change for "Quarters for Christmas." I hadn't even finished listing my Shop with a Cop arguments and here I had to defend myself about not sending quarters for little barefoot children! Don't these people get it? I can't do it all! Without even an advertisement inbetween, a voice came on asking for donations to the food bank. I couldn't keep my excuses straight! Then I remembered I was on my way to drop off some stuff at DI. I'll be tending grandkids this week, and after all I am counseling the world through my blog....maybe what I do is fine, and I don't have to defend it. And maybe what the cops do is fine, too. Maybe they aren't going to DI, maybe the food bank people don't have any grandchildren to tend...maybe we can be different in the ways we contribute. Duh.

I think my tendency to criticize other ways of doing things might be because I'm insecure about how I do things and want to defend myself. For lots of years my job description included telling little people what was right ("You can't just stir the water. You have to actually get in and take a bath." "It isn't nice to throw rocks at the policeman's window while he's asleep." "You can't wear your pink tu-tu to church.") Is it possible that time of my life is over? Should I allow others to just do their best in their own way? (As I said, this isn't a committment on my part yet.)

A couple of sisters in our ward have told me that they don't want Visiting Teachers. It occurred to me that Jesus says he "Stands at the door and knocks." He doesn't barge in. I'm thinking that I barge in with the "Right Way", if only in the debates I carry on in my mind. It's been pretty challenging trying to run the world. It would be alot easier to just live my life, wouldn't it? I'm just toying with that idea.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Remembering Presents

There are some Christmas presents I've received that stand out in my memory in one way or another. I remember getting a world globe from Grama and Grampa Bagley. I loved it! I think I was 9, and I studied it, and planned all the places I wanted to go. It was truly a gift of dreams.

The year I was 8 we opened all our presents in the big room in the basement, and then came upstairs and Mom was making thinnies. Suddenly from the living room came the sound of Dad playing a piano. He was playing our favorite, "In the Mood"! I ran in to see our beautiful, new piano, and there was a green piece of sheet music, "White Christmas" on it. I was so thrilled! We loved to hear our dad play the piano at our Grama's house and now we would hear him play every day. I got a bride doll in a big pink trunk, with lots of doll clothes. My mom had made me and my doll several matching outfits for Christmas, and once I fixed her beautiful comb-able hair into a matching bed-head look, we were twins! I loved getting a brownie camera when I was 10. It had a little tag that said "Open me first", so I could use all my pop in flash bulbs to record our Christmas celebration. It was my first grown up type gift.

The real money was probably spent on expensive ski equipment, and clothes over my teen-age years, but I can't really remember anything specific except our Bassett Hound puppy, Flower, when I was 11. She was the kind of new baby we all got excited about, except probably mom. A few years later I had a boyfriend, Bob, give me an unfortunate gift when I was 16. It was a real ruby ring, with a diamond on each side. It was in lieu of a real engagement ring and I wore it with all the joy of a newly betrothed girl, until a couple of weeks later when he had to reclaim it. His parents had discovered he had stolen it, and it needed to be returned to the store. The excitement kind of leaked out of that one.

The first year I was married I remember vividly: We had set aside $15 to spend on each other. Our tree had no lights and we used Christmas cards and popcorn strands to decorate it. Everyday Dee picked pyracantha berries and strung them into little wreaths to surprise me when I got home from work. Overnight they would wither, so he did it every day until Christmas to keep them fresh and pretty. He gave me an art book about our favorite artist (Bruegel) and a small hymn book with my name on it, an oyster colored slip, and some long fireplace matches so we could light our heater and stove without burning off our fingers. We look back on that Christmas with such sentimental tenderness, because of the purity of our Christmas giving.

A few years later the kids went shopping on their own, and I recieved a compact of foundation, in the color a black woman might wear. Josh had picked it and given it so excitedly! Gabi had chosen my favorite cherry chocolates, but as she read the list of ingredients she saw the word "liquor" and immediately hurried it out to the garbage can, so I wouldn't unknowingly break the Word of Wisdom. By that time the personalities our kids were developing were the most fun gifts we could have dreamed of, and we started getting them regularly. Hmmmm... My ambien is beginning to kick in and the profound conclusions I was going to draw are drifting around in a very cottony feeling brain. I'm sure there are a lot of great lessons here, but I'll let you think about your own Christmas Present experiences and find the lessons yourselves.

I will end with an invitation to make a visit to Memory Lane during the Christmas season. You'll probably find yourself going alone, but you'll meet up with some of the best people you've ever known. You'll enjoy everything you see, gain perspective, re-discover gratitude, feel a swelling of love for dear friends and family, count your blessings, and experience peace for a while. That's a pretty good Christmas present!