Monday, January 30, 2012

Mitt Romney Is Impressive

Mitt Romney

I am a life-long Democrat and a fan of President Obama, but I'd vote for Mitt Romney in a heartbeat. My respect for him supersedes party politics.

Politics is my sport—I listen to every debate, watch every pundit, read every stat. Over the years I've heard Mitt slammed for idiotic things, like perfect hair, ironed levis and stiff posture. "His sons are lined up behind him like they came from central casting," Chris Matthews says sarcastically. (Handsome, supportive sons are a reason we shouldn't vote for the guy?) "He's a flip-flopper," they say, and "He's too rich to identify with the rest of us." The Demos, the Repubs, they're all taking swings. I wish everybody knew what I know about Mitt Romney. This week I'm going to highlight some reasons I'm impressed.

He started well.

Lots of people are embarrassed by their youthful indiscretions. Fraternity parties, DUIs, free love, "I didn't inhale." It was the 60s—everybody was doing it. Well, not everybody. In 1966, at age nineteen, Mitt Romney chose to set aside his education and social life to be a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) for three years, at his own expense.

Mitt Romney and his father George

An LDS mission is not a gap year experience, or a semester abroad. Missionaries are not tourists. They live in humble apartments, can't own cars, date or go out with friends. They get up early, exercise, study for a couple of hours and are out the door by nine a.m. to discover what good they can do.

Although I didn't go on a mission myself, I know many hundreds of people who have, including my brother, my husband, four of my kids, all four of my sons-in-law, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, dozens of friends, neighbors and church associates. I admire them all—it's an accomplishment.

Not just any member of our church can serve a mission. As a young man Mitt Romney had to qualify by living a certain way: no premarital sex, no drugs, alcohol or tobacco. He would have paid 10% of his income in tithing (from his allowance and part-time jobs) from early childhood.

Members of the LDS church fast for 24 hours on the first Sunday of every month, and donate the money saved from those meals as a fast offering, which the Bishop of the ward (congregation) then distributes to needy families. Mitt would have paid this extra money, along with his tithing, throughout his teenage years, even though his parents would be paying it, too. We're taught from age three that charity is "the pure love of God," a quality we want to develop, and even little kids take satisfaction in contributing their nickels and dimes.

To be eligible for a mission, a person must attend church regularly. In addition to Priesthood Meeting, Sunday School and Sacrament Meeting on Sunday, Mitt attended weekly scout meetings and youth service activities. His father was the governor of Michigan, and Mitt attended private school, but he was treated like every kid in his ward. Church assignments included shoveling walks, raking leaves, cleaning the church, painting park benches, collecting clothing for charity, delivering food to the poor, helping people move, mowing lawns and lots more. I know this because it's the way every active Mormon grows up, and I was one. Many LDS kids think it's a privilege to serve as a missionary, and live to be worthy of the opportunity.

Elder Romney and his companion

Mitt went to France. In those days foreign speaking missions were three years and they learned the language on the job. The mission president (a mature man, responsible for about 100 missionaries) assigned him a companion—another young man who had been in France a few months longer—and the two of them knocked on doors and tried to convince French people to give up wine. They didn't have much success, and it was discouraging work.

LDS missionaries are sent primarily to teach people about Jesus Christ, and they do all sorts of things to exemplify Christ-like service. Because of their early training, they are comfortable helping folks with whatever needs to be done, whether it's cleaning a basement after a flood, or rebuilding a house after a tsunami. Missionaries develop tolerance and compassion for many different kinds of people of every religion, and Mitt served exceptionally. He learned to speak French fluently and developed a lifelong love of France and its culture, which enhanced his appreciation for other countries, and especially his own. He often defended the United States' involvement in Viet Nam and stood up for America.

A devastating accident changed his life while he was in France. Mitt was a passenger in a car with the mission president and his wife when their car was hit; the wife was killed. The mission president took a leave of absence to take her body home to the USA, have the funeral and grieve with his family, leaving 21-year-old Mitt and his companion in charge of the mission for an extended period.

During that time, Mitt was responsible for missionaries arriving, going home, and transferring within the mission; training new missionaries; motivating old ones; handling the daily problems of a hundred young men and women living in a foreign country. Humbled by his near-death experience, Mitt prayed to be equal to the challenge. He discovered innate leadership and organization skills, and developed great confidence in his abilities.

Mr. and Mrs. Mitt Romney

While Mitt was on his mission, Ann, his high-school girlfriend, joined the LDS church. She was attending BYU when he returned home to Michigan, so he followed her to Utah. They decided to get married ten days later, but waited three months to appease their parents. At age 22, Mitt Romney had the experience and courage to take on adult responsibilities. They got married March 21, 1969 and moved into a basement apartment.

Mitt Romney, young family Man

When Mitt graduated from BYU in 1971, they were already expecting their second son. In 1975 Mitt graduated cum laude from Harvard (in the top third of his class) with a joint law degree and MBA. By then they had three kids and Ann received her undergraduate degree that year, as well. I don't care how much money you have—you don't get four degrees and three kids in six years without a ton of hard work.

(They had two more sons by 1981.)

So—nothing humiliating, nothing disgraceful, nothing to cover up 43 years later. This is the story of how Mitt Romney spent the first ten years of his adulthood, from age 18 to 28. He definitely started well. And I think it's totally impressive.

(More of my impressions to come ... )

Friday, January 27, 2012

My Heart-Felt Response

Yesterday I mentioned my defective heart, and I've had a bunch of worried emails wondering if it's still beating. It is. But it's murmuring, too. Here's the whole story:

I had an echo cardiogram in December to see if my heart was OK in case I had to have surgery for adrenal cancer (which it turned out I don't have.) In the echo cardiogram they discovered I have a heart murmur. This was not too alarming because I've ALWAYS had a heart murmur, but I was sent to a cardiologist who wanted to know why I have a heart murmur.

Another echo cardiogram revealed that I have a thick heart and the blood doesn't leave the left ventricle efficiently. The cardiologist wondered if I had symptoms, like feeling breathless (yes, if I run, or climb too many stairs,) lightheadedness (yes, when I get up from laying down,) pain (no,) palpitations/awareness of my heart beating (yes, always.) These are conditions I've had all my life, so I've considered them normal.

He diagnosed my murmur as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy which is a genetic heart defect. (My mom had a heart murmur, too, and so does one of my daughters and one of my sons.) Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the heart disease that makes young, healthy athletes drop dead suddenly on the basketball floor when they're 18. "Often the first symptom is sudden death," he said. Yikes!

"The fact that you haven't already died of sudden death is a good sign," the doc said. Sometimes they put in a pacemaker, or a newer device that revs up the heart in case it misses a beat. Or they do some procedure where they put raw alcohol through a catheter and actually burn away some of the thick heart muscle, or they do open heart surgery and cut away the extra tissue.

Or they just watch and wait, and tell you not to worry. He patted my arm. "There's no reason to be stressed about this," he consoled me. Right.

In order to decide my particular treatment I had to have a cardiac MRI, which was a miserable, claustrophobic event, and I go back next week to hear the news. I already know I want to do the watch and wait and die a sudden death when I develop Alzheimer's.

Now I wish I'd never gone to the doctor. I went because I hadn't been for a few years and thought I should have a check up. After 2 MRIs, 2 echocardiograms, 21 blood tests, and an eye exam, I've been told I should diet and exercise, and use Visine for dry eyes. I feel like Naman, that guy in the Bible who went to Elisha to get cured of leprosy and was told to just bathe himself in the River Jordan. It seemed too simple to actually work and Naman was unimpressed. I wanted a more exciting Rx than diet and exercise. But I have to say, it sounds better than rib-splitting surgery.

So there's the whole story—thanks for asking. I'll keep you posted.
Your concern warms my heart!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My Maturation Program

Marty about 12

The biggest thing that happened in 5th grade was the Maturation Program. We all knew it was coming, and even though we acted nonchalant or even disinterested, we could hardly wait. The secrets of womanhood would be revealed and finally, we would be knowing. In my day, the boys stayed in class and did subtraction or something equally boring, and we came back with our Kotex booklets hidden in our skirts, giggling, wiping cookie crumbs from our mouths. We were now wise, and yes ... mature.

Marty, Olympus High School Senior Year

An advanced maturation program took place in my college dorm. We were all virgins (or at least pretended to be) but by then older sisters and former roommates were getting married, sharing details of what doing it was like. In the time-honored way of women, the uninitiated were prepared for the big moment.

A couple of years later I was in a room full of the well-initiated. Twenty pregnant mamas-to-be shuddered as we watched a movie of a woman in labor, and sobbed as we watched her give birth. We'd matured for six months, and attending the labor and delivery class was a privilege of the third trimester. We toured the hospital, learned all the signs and symptoms, and practiced our breathing techniques. We were ready.

Chase, Mack, Hannah,

After that, the conversation shifted. In preschool parking lots and ballet class waiting rooms we discussed our children's maturation instead of ours. Crawling, walking, talking, reading—"When did your kid start?" In Little League bleachers and parent-teacher conferences we worried and wondered if they were on schedule to become all they could become.

Halverson Heroes 1980

Back then I watched my kids get older by the second, but I planned to stay the same. Lancome and L'Oreal promised I could, so I bought eye cream and went to aerobics, hoping to catch the aging process in time. Forty came and went, and although I joked about hot flashes and reading glasses, I knew deep down that I was still pretty cute. Middle-age wasn't so bad. I'd wisely avoided the problems the old ladies at the mall seemed to have. I was through being pregnant and through being fat. Months of chicken breasts and hard-boiled eggs had me trim and youthful, and the fact that I wasn't supporting a developing or nursing baby for the first time in 11 years contributed a wonderful feeling of vitality. I lost 30 lbs in 5 months and was back to my fighting weight, healthy.

Mom and Dad, 1997

About that time my mom started to complain about her hair, her joints, her eyesight, her feet, her stomach, her taste-buds ... I tuned her out. She really didn't complain that much—just enough to bug me. "Hey, Mom! I thought we were talking about me!" (She was starting to sound like my grandma.) Then she died. I was only 48, still in denial about my own impending dotage. Getting old was for the uninformed, I thought. It was actually surprising to me that my own mother had let it happen.

Now I wish I'd paid attention to her ailments. In spite of all my plans, I'm getting old. As crazy as it seems, I'm married to a sixty-five year old Opa! And the girl who does my hair paid me this compliment the other day: "You are so darling! You remind me of my grandma!" (With compliments like that, who needs tips?)

I had an MRI on my heart this week to follow up on a problem the doc detected on an echo cardiogram. "The good news is you're 62. You've lived a good, long life with a defective heart. I'm not worried about you at all." It was good news, of course, but when someone refers to my very unfinished existence with "you've lived a good, long life" it's a reminder that I'm on the downhill slide. I'm in the third trimester, but I don't want to go to the movie and see what happens next.

Aged seems to be another normal stage of life, but nobody's interested in having the aging discussion. I would be. If they passed out booklets and cookies and punch, I'd love to head over to the gym with the class of '67 for a maturation class. Maybe they'd talk about whiskers, (on girls) and forgetting where I put all six pairs of glasses. I'd ask if anybody's feet feel like they're walking on knives first thing in the morning. The guys would come this time (even they are mature by now) and discuss the demise of the prostate, and we'd realize we've circled back to a time when doing it is a big deal again.

Even though my crowd has men and women who lift weights, do yoga, run the treadmill, swim laps and bike the canyons, there's no way around it—we're old. (It's better than being dead, which is the alternative.) I'd love to go someplace where someone acknowledges that getting old is normal, so I can stop feeling guilty about not trying hard enough. Should I have been vegan? Should I have thrown out my salt shaker? Should I have given up coke? I don't really want to know the answer to that question.

Ballou, Robinson Kid's Chorus

I wonder why we marvel that a child goes from a newborn, to a toddler, to a kindergartener who plays violin and piano, to a cub scout, building fires and water skiing, to a 5'6" young track star but we're shocked to notice our bodies have changed, too, in that same ten years.

I need a maturation program where I learn the secrets of this knew stage of life. All about the advantages, stuff to look forward to, tricks to overcome the challenges. And I want to see the folks who've made it to elder statesmen. The ones who are oozing with experience and dying to share it with someone who is interested.

If you hear of a maturation program for the young at heart
(defective hearts welcome) let me know.
I'd love to know how to put a twinkle in my wrinkle!

*P.S. You guys put a twinkle in my wrinkle! Every comment and email is read, gets a smile or a giggle, and a tender thought for what you mean to me! I can't answer them all, because I get carried away and don't have time to eat or sleep or go to the bathroom, get dressed, brush my teeth or bathe. In order to keep myself somewhat pleasant to be around, I read your comments, visit your blogs, and respond by writing my posts. You folks keep my heart beating happily!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Love Language

"To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it's about,
but the inner music the words make."
—Truman Capote

Mrs. Wagstaff, my 9th grade English teacher, made us memorize poems and recite them every Monday. I hated it. But, I still remember them, and they continue to touch my heart with their inner music. Here are some of the words that taught me to love words:

"Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of Heaven,
Blossom the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels."

Annabelle Lee
"She was a child, and I was a child, in this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love,
I and my Annabelle Lee.
We loved with a love that the winged seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me."
—Edgar Allan Poe

"By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the moon Nokomis ...
And the little Hiawatha."

"Little boy kneels at the foot of his bed,
Drooped on his little hands, little gold head.
Hush! Hush! Whisper—who dares?
Christopher Robin is saying his prayers."
—A. A. Milne

Touch of the Master's Hand
"Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But he held it up with a smile."
—Myra Brooks Welch

Little Orphant Annie
"Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
To wash the cups and saucers, and brush the crumbs away."
—James Whitcomb Riley

Casey at the Bat
"There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile lit Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat."
—Ernest Lawrence Thayer

Wynken, Blynken and Nod
"Wynken, Blynken and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe—"
—Eugene Field

What Does the Train Say
"What does the train say? Jiggle joggle, jiggle joggle.
What does the train say? Jiggle joggle jee."
—Laura E. Richards

"And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountain green?
And was the holy lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?"

"It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."
—William Ernest Henley

The Road Not Taken
"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."
—Robert Frost

Thank you, Mrs. Wagstaff!
You made a difference.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Dad Jiggs

Me and my dad, 1971

"How did you learn to play the piano," I asked. "Did you take lessons?"
"Are you kidding?" he answered. "We didn't have any money.

"It was actually a blessing," Dad went on. "I learned to work. We were always in deep money trouble when I was a kid, and all of us did any old thing to help make ends meet."

Gerald Hawley Bagley was born January 18, 1922 in Montpelier, Idaho, the second of five kids. He was nick-named Jiggs, after a comic strip. His parents, Adelila and Hawley, moved to Salt Lake City when he was three, into a home full of love, laughter, music, and furniture bought on credit.

"One day some men drove up in a big truck and started hauling out our beds, dressers, chairs and tables," Dad said. "It was great! We kids put on socks and ice-skated around the big, empty rooms on the hard-wood floors, wondering why Mom was sitting on the porch, crying. They had repossessed all her furniture." There was a moral to the story. "Never buy everything from the same store."

Every penny counted in the Bagley household. As a little boy Dad picked strawberries and cherries for 25¢ a case. "The summer I was nine I picked worms. Somebody had a huge dew-berry patch, and the owners came through the neighborhood in a truck to pick us kids up. I took a bucket, a pair of gloves and a hat. For two dollars a day, I filled my bucket with great big green worms, two or three inches long, then dumped them all on a fire of burning oil. It was a long, hot summer."

Jiggs 1932

"When I was about ten, I had a make-shift incubator. I raised 200 baby chicks until they were five weeks old, and then nailed a sign on a telephone pole and sold them five-for-a-dollar. Saturday mornings I went with my mother to a poultry farm where she plucked chickens—my job was to wring their necks. We got paid with a chicken for Sunday dinner.

"A neighbor had 30 cows that I herded when I was 15. I just walked along the road slowly all day long, stopped to eat, and then at 4 o'clock I'd start them back. It was extremely boring.

"After I turned twelve I'd try to get a 'loop' at the golf course on Saturdays and holidays. All the rich guys played at the country club, and they hired kids to carry their clubs. It took an hour to walk there, and caddying a round took four hours. It was a big deal to get a 10¢ tip. With that dime I could buy a hamburger and a coke, and still have a buck to take home after a six-hour day."

There were perks to being a young working man. "I had a huge paper route and my dad had to drive me around at 4:30 every morning. When I was 13 he told me I could drive myself. I had a lot of fun growing up, but I worked for everything—I bought my first over-coat when I graduated from high school. Just having a coat gave me a huge burst of confidence."

This under-privileged childhood produced a man who spent three years as a soldier, then put himself through college (straight A's) and became an optometrist. Later he got into real estate, developed a few subdivisions and an industrial park, bought a tennis club, built Jeremy Ranch golf course, and owned the Utah Jazz long enough to make sure the team stayed in Utah. He wrote a book, worked in the state legislature, coached championship baseball and basketball teams, employed dozens of people and supported his parents. He sang in barbershop quartets, choirs and backyards, remembered stats from every World Series game, could tabulate the grocery bill in his head and played a mean piano.

I wonder if he'd have done better if his summers had been filled with lessons?

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Story

Where did you come from?

I came from Jiggs and June, Hawley and Ad, Axel and Agnes.

From carpenters, farmers, lumberjacks and miners,
New Brunswick, Boston, Sweden, and Idaho.

I came from thinnies, lutefisk, peaches and corn,
home-grown beef and homemade noodles,
butter and salt and eggnogs.

I came from ukuleles, hand-made violins,
"In the Mood," "The Teddy Bear Song,"
and "A Bicycle Built for Two."

I came from coffee and Sanka and bottles of coke,
No smoking, or coffee or tea.
Ward teachers, roadshows, mission farewells,
and Mormon pioneers.

I came from golf, baseball and basketball courts,
From sewing, quilting, violets and books;
From an old black Dodge, a red station wagon,
A Fury, a Valiant and a yellow Mustang.

I came from FDR, General McArthur,
Eisenhower and Heber J. Grant;
from Depression survivors, the GI Bill, Optometry school
and a carport.

I came from David and Ricky, Karen and Cubby,
Brett and Bart, and Lukas McCain.
From Neil Sedaka, The Beach Boys,
Peter Paul and Mary, and Mama Cass.

From Sassoon hair and Twiggy eyes,
and Weejuns without socks.
From JFK to RFK to MLK to Watergate.

From Sherman, William Penn, Holladay,
OJH, Olympus and BYU,
and Salzburg, Austria,
Where I went from being Marty
to being Marty and Dee.
And another story started.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pride of Ownership

"Twelve year old kids can drive boats," Josh informed me when he was almost twelve. "Can we buy one?" "Sure," I told him. "If you earn the money."

With that incentive he found the perfect job in the back of a Boy's Life magazine:

Gift Wrap Salesman Wanted
Sell $75 worth of wrapping paper and win a . . .

(oh my gosh, can this be true??)

. . . a boat!

Josh trekked the neighborhood, order form in hand, collecting sales and checks. Within three days the $3.99 package deals added up to a $75 package, and all he had to do was wait for his boat.

Six to eight weeks the magazine said.

Twelve weeks passed and so did boating season.

Most of us forgot all about it.

One night Dee and I came home late to a quiet house. A cardboard box was in shreds on the counter and pieces of styrofoam were stuck to the couch. The kids were all in their beds—except for Josh. He was sleeping on the floor, surrounded by dozens of rolls of Christmas wrap.

He'd gone boating.

Josh's raft provided a fun day on Mirror Lake—two at a time we climbed in and prayed it wouldn't sink. A few months later, at Christmastime, the neighbors started calling to see what had happened to their wrapping paper. (Apparently Josh's talent was in sales, not delivery.) I don't know what happened to the boat after that. Most of us forgot all about it, even Josh.

A couple of weeks ago we visited Josh's family. The kids were already asleep when we arrived late Christmas night, but Christie reported on the festivities of the day, while Josh took our suitcases downstairs. "Chase got a boat," she was telling us, just as Josh called, "You've got to see this!"

It's so fun when your kids have kids who are just like them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Trust Your Instincts

"Hi, Opa." The little voice squeaked with worried tears.
"We have a big prob-wem!" His panic came through the phone.
"Songbear needs surgery, and there's nobody else who can help us."

Songbear is Benji's best friend, and he'd been hugged til his stuffing was coming out.
A holiday bath had made things worse, and Benji was feeling his buddy's pain.
"Can you help us?" he whimpered.

Opa perfected his sewing skills years ago with Cub Scout shirts and Boy Scout patches. There's nobody he'd rather pick up a needle for than a little boy. He arranged to meet his patient at the Christmas Eve party.

All during the festivities Opa snipped and stitched.

"I'm trying not to hurt him," he said as the needle poked a furry backside.

When Operation Songbear was complete, Benji tied the final knot.
The perfect Christmas present.
(Who needs Santa when you've got an Opa?)

Forty three years ago, when I was just nineteen, I met a 22-year-old boy. We were on a semester abroad without the accouterments we normally judge people by. I didn't know his family, what kind of car they drove, how they interacted. I'd never seen him in real life—his clothes, his friends, his house.

Ten days later we decided to get married. My parents freaked out when they got the letter. What was I thinking? They didn't know a thing about him! But I did. Our first Saturday together he shined my shoes.

Something told me he'd be an awesome Opa.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Herr Bruderer

"Get him talking," was the whispered advice in our German class. Everybody knew Herr Bruderer would forget to give the promised test if we asked a question about his beloved Switzerland, and let him ramble. When he put his feet on his desk, leaned back with his arms behind his bald head and started reminiscing we all relaxed. Grammar and word order issues were set aside in favor of culture and history. We played right into his hands—it was on those days we learned the most.

I caught his enthusiasm and passion for different lands and I wanted to experience it for myself, although I wasn't sure what it was. I recognized it when I got there.

Colmar, France

It's a feel, an aura: cobblestone paths, unsalted butter, the fragrance of cheese in tiny shops. Buildings built before Columbus, restaurants owned by one family for hundreds of years,
folklored fabrics on carved wooden chairs, flounced light fixtures, embellished gables, dripping umbrellas in painted stands, fur-trimmed baby buggies: this is European art in its natural setting.

Salzburg Festung

Sitting in Herr Bruderer's class at Olympus High, I fell in love with Europe as he talked. A student teacher showed slides from a semester abroad in Salzburg, Austria. I asked her for details, wanting to go, too. "Set a goal," Herr Bruderer said. "Start saving." I did.

If you'd asked me last night if Herr Bruderer was still alive, I wouldn't have known. This morning I saw his obituary and I can't stop thinking about the impact he had me. Everything in my life is because of him.

(To be continued . . . )

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Is Blogging Dead?

Am I at a party that's turned into a wake?

Recently I've heard about blogging's demise ("Facebook and Twitter have taken over," they say. "Blog posts are too long to hold people's interest," they say.) So, I've been re-evaluating my blogging career. Are all the good blogging gigs being shipped overseas? Do I need to post in Mandarin?

I've come to a conclusion: Blogging as a fad is dead, blogging isn't. Here's why: A blog is a place to write, like a notebook or a billboard or a magazine or a postcard. It's also a virtual office, with file cabinets, display shelves, writing tools and folders for research. It's a creative space, like a photography workshop, a painting studio or a practice cubicle.

My mom had a big closet she turned into her sewing room. Pictures of the latest fashions hung on the walls, fabric was piled in colorful stacks, threads and bobbins perched on pegs. An ironing board leaned against a file cabinet stuffed with patterns and all sorts of sewing paraphernalia: measuring tapes, cutting wheels, rick-rack and bias tape. Mom was an organized and gifted seamstress, but this room would not have been featured in an issue of Where Women Create. Hers was a workshop. Pajama sleeves were in progress, along with mending projects and home-ec assignments. I'm sure Mom saw some spacious sewing rooms and compared them to hers. Maybe she envied new equipment, commissions for wedding gowns, time spent sitting at a Pfaff, accolades for talent. (I know for a fact her oldest daughter didn't give her the appreciation she deserved.) But shutting down her sewing room was not an option. It's where she did her sewing, where she stashed her sewing stuff. It was her creative space.

I visit other blogs, see how imaginative they are, how artistic and witty, count the advertisers who trust their skill, read comments by the dozen. What's the point of my daily meandering in this blogosphere of expertise? Who's reading it? Should readers even be the reason I write? I understand why bloggers are shutting down: their blog feels like a closet at the back of the house, and nobody cares what they're doing back there.

Thinking about blogs woke up my gratitude for this little place I've created. Stuffed in my blog are organized piles of my life's paraphernalia:
  • Accounts of who I am, where I've been, where I'm going.
  • Facts I'd tell a new friend.
  • Facts old friends already know.
  • How I've felt from day to day about my experiences.
  • What I've learned from them.
  • What I want to remember.
  • Talents I'm discovering and plans for using them.
  • Advice I can't share any other way.
  • What I'd tell my psychiatrist.
  • Hidden jewels from my childhood.
  • A written record of our family.
  • My knowledge of truths about God.
  • A collection of my anecdotes.
  • Stories about my ancestors.
  • Trip diaries.
  • Lists of goals.
I could go on and on, (and if you check my archives, you'll see I have.) These are the Brass Plates of Oma: my anthology is available to my posterity forevermore. It's already an organized resource for pioneer stories, family factoids, photos, vacation memories, tips, dates, names and lesson materials. Sure, it's rambling, boring, full of too much information, but so is every library. Workshops have dust and wood chips laying around, but does that make the furniture any less valuable? My blog—your blog—is a treasure house.

Oma's Blog Boosters
  1. Don't compare my blog to others. I'm unique and so are they.
  2. Don't judge the success of my blog by the numbers.
  3. Tour my blog occasionally to see what gems I've collected.
  4. Take a break from writing when I need to. (Who cares, really??) It'll still be there when I come back.
  5. When my blog feels like a nag, set it aside, but don't question it's value.

My blog is a place where I gather, assemble, evaluate, ponder, wonder, brag, whine, remember, worry, chat, work, organize, practice and learn. It's mine.

As a blogger, I boldly declare: Blogging is Not Dead. Blogging is a living, breathing, vital pursuit, dedicated to enlightening the past, energizing the present, and enriching the future.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Make a Point: Use Yourself as the Bad Example

An Oma (Condensed) Storybook.
A true-ish story taken from Oma's childhood,
illustrated by photos from the Cousin's Club Photo Collection.

"Open wide," said Dr. Hall. I was sitting in the torture chair, with the dentist picking around between my gums. He looked over the holes left where my baby teeth had fallen out. "You have a little mouth," he said. "There's not room for your big teeth to grow in. We'll have to pull a few molars, use elastics and headgear to stretch your mouth bigger." We'll see about that, I thought to my chicken-hearted self. I'm basically a wimp who looks for the easy way off a painful path.
When I got home, I rushed to the mirror, opened wide and peered inside. Bubble gum had turned my tongue a ghastly purple, and I could see nothing pretty in there. Teeth twisted every which way—I needed a bigger mouth, and it wasn't going to be pleasant getting one.

Polly shoved me aside, wanting a turn at the mirror. Floppy white legs dangled over her shoulders with ribbons tied at the feet. My crazy little sister was wearing a pair of tights on her head, pretending she had long braids! "Why are you wearing Suzy-long-legs for hair?" I asked. "You look dopey!" She burst out crying. "You have a big mouth!" she yelled.

A big mouth—just what I needed! Maybe I could develop this skill and avoid some dental pain. It was actually pretty easy. I just said everything I thought, without thinking about it first. By the end of the day my sisters and my dad and brother, had all commented on my big mouth. Words were flying wildly and my tongue was out of control when I found Tommy pitching a pup-tent in the backyard.

"It's going to fall down," I teased. He didn't look up. "You're not a real cowboy," I said, and threw his pint-size ten-gallon on top of the carport. He pulled his cap-gun, but I took my best shot: "The fringe on your shirt is plastic," I whooped. Tommy looked down at his shirt with tear-filled eyes.

"That's enough, young lady," said a dark shadow behind me. "You can spend the rest of the day in your room." Mom's voice was soft and controlled. Mine wasn't.

"I hate you!" I yelled up at her. "I hate you!" I'll never forget the heartbreak in her eyes when I said those words. I had hurt the person who loved me most, even when I was the most unlovable. "I hate you." I said it softer this time, more to myself.

In my room I looked in the mirror. I saw a gargantuan tongue flopping around, out of control, and, just as everyone had told me, a big mouth. Even my teddy bear didn't want to get cozy with all the venom drooling out of my lips.

Mom knocked and then came in and sat on the bed. I couldn't stop looking at her lovely smile. And something I'd never noticed before—she had a crooked tooth!

"My mouth was too little for all my teeth," Mom explained, "and some of them crowded on top of each other. I didn't feel pretty for a long time. That's why I want you to have room for your teeth."

"Will I be pretty?" I asked between sobs.

"You know, Marty, ugly words always make a girl ugly, even if she has lovely lips and terrific teeth. Beautiful words always make a woman beautiful, even if her teeth are all skeewampus.

"Dr. Hall can use elastics and headgear to make your smile perfect, but if you have a big mouth, you won't be pretty." I understood what she meant by a big mouth.

At dinner that night I sat across from Polly. "I like your braids," I told her. Her dimple showed, and I knew my opinion mattered. That made me feel nice, so I said, "You can use my barrettes if you want to." I looked over at Tommy and asked, "Are you sleeping in your tent tonight?" He nodded, and straightened his hat. "Looking good, Cowboy," I said and felt even nicer.

"What did the dentist say, Marty?" Dad asked.

"He said my mouth wasn't big enough," I reported. "There's not much I can do, except be patient while he uses elastics and headgear to make it bigger."

Mom seemed to have forgotten my ugly words. "Marty's lovely lips won't have to hide anything unpleasant in her mouth," she said. "because her words are as pretty as her smile."

Not quite The End.
As Marty grew up, her challenge was always to control her tongue, and keep her big mouth shut a little more often. When she met Dee Halverson he told her his motto:

"Think over everything you say, but don't say everything you think."

Dee always said kind, thoughtful things so Marty decided to marry him. Even though she's now a 62-year-old Oma, she still has trouble controlling her tongue. She's learned to think over everything she says, but it's usually after she's already said it!

Luckily the people she loves are understanding. Her children and grandchildren are her best examples: they are beautiful because they think and say beautiful things. See for yourself!
(Just a few examples of teeth coming in every which way.)
The Cousins are all darling because of the sweet words
that decorate their smiles with love!

An Oma tip:
Tell a story about how you learned (or tried to learn) a lesson one of your posterity is working on right now. You'll have a new bond! It's good for kids to know Mom and Dad, Aunt Clara and Uncle Max and even Great-grandpa Hugh had a few habits to break and new skills to master.
Improvement can be a family affair!

Set a New Year's Goal to work on with a loved one,
just for fun!