Friday, July 29, 2011

Divine Designs

Heidi and Chelsea play Cat's Cradle 2011 Campout

Life is like Cat's Cradle—predictable and fun for a while, then suddenly everything gets tangled, impossible to figure out. Onlookers stand around saying, "Grab that string," "Take hold of it with your thumb," "Pull it the other way," but it looks like total confusion from your angle. Miraculously, it all shakes out and you can start over fresh.

We started our summer with a familiar design.

Two months later it's way more complicated, but more interesting, too. Have you ever noticed that something can start out as a problem and end up as a solution? We've had it happen several times.
  1. A terrifying asthma attack (in a foxhole) put Dee in the hospital for a week, but kept him out of Viet Nam.
  2. We put money down on a perfect house, then felt compelled to cancel the deal and buy an imperfect house. Three of our daughters met their husbands because we lived there.
  3. A miserable assignment a few years ago taught me computer skills I would never have learned otherwise.
  4. Job disappointments kept us available and we were able to move to England for a life-changing year.
  5. The diagnosis of cancer has twisted our life in an unexpected new direction. Huge new financial concerns convinced us to move (after ten years of saying we'd never move) and new opportunities have opened up.
God sets solutions in motion before we are even aware of our problems. Even though I know this, when a new challenge comes along, I get very specific in my requests, certain I know best. "Please bless me this way," I pray. When the answer comes from a different direction, I might not recognize it, and sometimes it looks like a whole new problem.

Looking backwards I know the Lord designs solutions better than I do, so why does my faith falter when I look ahead?

Miraculously I see a pattern emerging, and it looks exciting!

Has life got designs on you?

Have you had a problem that became a solution?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Congress: Cut the Crap


I know you won't believe it, but I witnessed this guy with a little road rage yesterday.

It started with a diaper change he wasn't ready for—who wants to deal with all that crap? Pretty soon he was in such a state he couldn't remember what his point was. There were tears, screams, and lots of "NO! I DO IT!" Compromise was just a big word he didn't want to learn. It was a lively scene, and a messy job, but eventually he relaxed his stand, and reached his goal:

Photos and child provided courtesy of Marta.

Joseph Fielding Smith said,
"Don't stand up so straight you fall over backwards."
Benji is learning that concept. When he relaxed his rigidity, the never-ending crap was dealt with, and everyone was more comfortable. That might be why his mom often says, "C'mon Benj, you need a change." Doesn't everyone?

Here's a group that needs a change.

They don't want to deal with all the crap. The tantrums we're watching are all too familiar to those of us who know two-year-olds. "NO! I DO IT!" sounds ridiculous to grown-ups everywhere. Compromise is a big word these kids should have learned by now!

"So dry your tears, guys, try to get along. Share the glory, share the blame, you can do it. Stand for your principles, but don't stand up so straight you fall over backwards. Relax your rigidity and we'll all feel better."

Maybe there will even be cupcakes!

Monday, July 25, 2011

John Bagley: Pioneer Tree Hugger

Photo by Holgen Leue

Great-great Grandpa John Bagley was only eighteen when he left his family in eastern Canada. He joined with the Mormon pioneers to prepare for a trek across the plains from Illinois to Utah.

John was extremely trusted and took the responsibility of caring for a widow and her children in the wagon train. He drove the lead team of nine yoke of oxen into the valley in 1856 when he was just twenty years old. Later, Brigham Young requested that John accompany him in many dangerous situations as a body guard. At the age of 58 he wrote his life story in his own hand, recalling his adventures with Indians, wild animals, cholera, and starvation.

John's Journal

But there is one particular feat John is remembered for.

John had worked in a lumber mill with his father from the time he was a little boy. Four days after his arrival in Salt Lake Valley he started work on what would become six lumber mills in Big Cottonwood Canyon. He helped build roads, haul logs and build silver mines in Alta, and became known quickly for his ability and agility.

Photo: Lake Mary, Brighton, UT Project 365:185/366 Flickr

On July 23, 1857, nine months after John's arrival, 2,600 people (with 500 vehicles and 1,500 animals) gathered at the bottom of Big Cottonwood Canyon for a giant anniversary party. The first pioneers had settled the valley ten years before, and there was a celebration planned ten miles up the canyon in Brighton. The group followed Brigham Young and a long line of dignitaries in carriages and wagons. A marching company of 50 kids between 10 and 12 years old led the way up the canyon, along with a brass band that furnished music for the celebration.

At sunset a bugle summoned the campers to a central elevated spot where Brigham Young addressed them. On the morning of July 24, the flag was unfurled from a giant pine tree, standing on a peak. Prayer was offered, then singing, and afterward cannons roared. The Big Cottonwood Lumber Company, for which John worked, had constructed the road as far as Lake Alice, near Silver Lake, expressly for this occasion. Today there is a small chapel at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon, in Brighton, close to where the celebration took place.

Photo by Blozan's Tree Climb

This is how John recalled the day of Celebration:
Brigham Young's tent was near a towering pine tree 100 feet high. That tree was selected as a flag pole for the unfurling of the Stars and Stripes. I had been reared in the timber lands of eastern New Brunswick, America, and was experienced in handling timber and logging, so I was selected by President Young to trim the tree for a flagpole.

Carrying my axe, I climbed to the top of the tree, trimmed the branches and cut the tip so there was a smooth top. I unfurled the flag, and much to the amazement of those below, I stood on my head on the top of the tree!

As I descended, I trimmed the other branches, and when I was among the trees that were not so lofty, I seized the branch of another tree and ape-like, swung from the flag pole and disappeared. The people below thought I had perished and were quite concerned until I finally appeared having made my way through the branches.
John Bagley

He sounds like a great, great-great grandfather to me!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pioneer Parade

Looking straight down from our balcony

I looked out my window, and what did I see?
People sleeping underneath my tree!

Thousands of people camp overnight on our sidewalk to reserve their parade spot.

For 24 hours every 24th of July we have the hottest real estate in Utah. Our balcony overlooks the traditional Pioneer Parade (the 3rd largest parade in the USA) and our local grands sit in our grandstand.

The 24th of July is a day of stories. Everyone in Mormondom has heard heart-wrenching accounts about the pioneers who left Nauvoo and trekked across the plains in covered wagons. There are soul-stirring tales about people who joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in England, Scandinavia and Europe. Families sold everything to afford passage, and sailed to America to join the Saints. Because they couldn't afford wagons, they pulled handcarts and walked the whole way. Miracles abound in these oft-told stories, but sometimes they lose their significance in the repetition.

C.C.A. Christensen

A few years ago I wrote a book called A Lasting Legacy, tracing my family history back to 1628. I loved reading and working from original documents and journals. One of my ancestors was Andrew Jackson Allen, born September 5, 1818 in Pulasky County, Kentucky. He started keeping a daily journal when he was 38 years old.

One of the original pioneers, he arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley November 25, 1847, just four months after Brigham Young told the first company, "This is the right place." The Allen family built a log cabin and lived through the winter, eating mostly flour and bulbs.

In 1848, long before anyone was telling this story in Sunday School, he wrote down his own experience with the Miracle of the Seagulls:

May 7, 1848
Now every man went in for farming. There were a field laid out large enough for all. We put in our spring wheat, corn and what few potatoes we had. We had to irrigate, which we had never done before. Now we needed to grow grain, or suffer, as there were no grain nearer than one thousand miles away and my provisions were getting short. When wild vegetation sprang up, the people had to go to the prairies to seek roots to eat, such as field onions and thistle roots which were not pleasant, but hunger made them taste good. There were some folks to my knowledge that ate large white wolves.

Now we commenced making water ditches for irrigation. The spring grain sprung up and looked quite good. The next thing we see was thousands of young crickets making their appearance in every direction. We discovered they were eating at the young growing wheat and gardens. We began to destroy them in every way we could, but all in vain. It really seemed as though the more we killed, the more came. It seemed as though they would destroy all we put in the ground in spite of all we could do.

May 20, 1848
There was a cold snap that froze the vines, and things in the ground were easily killed. Now the fall wheat we had got was just beginning to put the head out of the ground and the frost killed it. This was a trying time. Those crickets also were eating at the fall wheat. Many of us were out of bread. Just now the seagulls came in flocks by the thousands and began to eat the crickets. They would cover the fields and fill themselves and then they would fly to the water and drink, then they would vomit them up and go again and fill up again. They seemed to repeat this time after time after time, and soon they destroyed the crickets in a great measure. We attributed this to the hand of the Lord in our behalf. If those gulls had not destroyed them, they would have destroyed all of our growing crops. And that would have brought great suffering among the people.

This guy was pretty great: my great-great-great-great grandfather. He touched on a huge variety of events: the death of Joseph Smith, the civil war, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the "tellegraft wire," the coming of the railroad, and the shot that killed President James A. Garfield.

He wrote "one of my little boys, 19 months of age, had been sick but got better. Was taken worse and at 8:00 am he departed this life." And a couple of years later: "My daughter, Purlina, were taken very ill with her old leg complaint. I done all for her I could, but all in vain. She departed this life at 7:00 pm, perfectly in her right mind, reconciled to her fate. Her age was 12 years and 11 months."

Andrew Jackson Allen died at age 66. The obituary said, "He was gored to death by a vicious bull." It's a horrible end, but it makes a great story.

The Bible tells us that our hearts will turn to our fathers. I believe it. Joseph Fielding Smith said, "It remains the responsibility of each individual to know his kindred dead . . . it is each person's responsibility to study and become acquainted with his ancestors." Compiling dates isn't enough. We are, after all, not simply clerks recording their passing. We're a family, all marching in the same parade.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eye Popping

Here's a sight for you!

Dee had a coughing fit during the night while we were in California. It passed, and he went back to sleep. This is what he looked like the next morning!

He didn't feel a thing, and he could see perfectly, but a blood vessel had broken in his eye (it's called a subconjunctival hemorrhage) and for a few days he's looked as if blood was going to gush over his eyelid. Finally today we can see a bit of white again, so it must be reabsorbing. The doctor says it's fine, but the horrible sight has caught a few eyes!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Baby Boomer Bias

Baby Boomers are getting a bad rap.

Although we're known for Woodstock, flower power and LSD, most of us weren't part of that scene at all. There's a gap in our generation that's creating a bias—nobody's telling our story. These were facts of life for baby boomers:
  1. Korean War: (1950-1953) 36,000 US soldiers were killed and over 8,000 went missing in action. (Just for comparison: about 3,000 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.)
  2. Cold War: (1946-1991)
  3. Hydrogen bomb (1952)
  4. Nuclear Arms Race (throughout the Cold War)
  5. Gary Powers' U-2 plane shot down (1960)
  6. Civil Rights Struggles (1954-1968)
  7. Berlin Wall (1961-1989)
  8. Bay of Pigs (1961)
  9. Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)
  10. John F. Kennedy Assassination (Nov 1963)
  11. Martin Luther King Assassination (April 1968)
  12. Robert F. Kennedy Assassination (June 1968)
  13. Viet Nam War (1956-1975) and how to avoid being one of 58,183 soldiers killed in action.
  14. Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned because of criminal charges: fraud, bribery and conspiracy (Oct 1973.)
  15. Watergate
Are you a baby boomer with memories of these things? Did you have a bomb shelter? Do you remember the Democratic Convention in 1968 when Walter Cronkite cried? Where were you the night of the draft lottery? Our generation grew up thinking seriously about serious things. It was a scary time, and I bet I wasn't the only kid who worried that the Russians were going to bomb us any day. After all, we saw Khrushchev banging his shoe at the United Nations. Police were shown on TV beating teenagers who supported school integration, and we watched assassinations as they happened. How did it affect you?

"Crisis swirls around this sprawling generation as it hits its golden years," claims one critic. "The calamity of baby boomers reaching retirement threatens to bankrupt the country, with social security and medicare payments out of all proportion."

The criticism is what's out of proportion. This quote is from a writer born in 1982, with no mention of the investment boomers made in his future. (Dee and I figure we spent $1,500,000 raising kids who are now making positive contributions to society. The author's parents may have done something for him, too.)

It's time to tell our stories! History is biased unless it is balanced by the truth of those who lived it. Dee has spent 25 years writing the history of people and places, but this year's projects have been most exciting—they are the first he's written about true baby boomers.

Two unique biographies, both about men who raised families, grew businesses, had health and personal challenges that brought out their best qualities, and succeeded in the most important ways; the books of stories and photos will be treasured by kids and grandkids, and become even more valuable through time. Unfortunately, Dee wrote each biography without input from the main character. Baby boomers are not invincible.

So, write down what should not be forgotten; get out a tape recorder; start a blog; put your experiences in perspective with the times. Your life won't become a story unless somebody tells it, and the best person to tell it is you.

Avoid Baby Boomer Bias!

Homework: Choose a historical event from your lifetime and write about the way it affected you.

The clock radio woke me early and I listened to the news while I got ready for work. I was sitting on my bed tying my white nurse's shoes when I heard, "Bobby Kennedy has been shot and killed." Was the world ending?? Just six weeks before Martin Luther King had been assassinated. I had cheered for Bobby and Ethel at a BYU rally in March, thrilled that he included jokes about Mormons in his campaign speech. Now my throat constricted and tears started down my cheeks. June 6, 1968 started a long summer of political unrest in America.

Monday, July 18, 2011

California Wedding Day

My gorgeous sister Jolyn (and her son Willie)
arrive at the Los Angeles LDS Temple for the wedding.

She looks like the bride, but she's actually the mother of the groom.
(They're behind her.)

After the wedding ceremony at the temple,
there was a ring ceremony and reception at an oasis in the mountains,
just a few miles from Malibu beach.

Saddle Rock Ranch was a spectacular spot!
(That cute guy is my groom.)

The tables were set beneath avocado groves—
exotic animals (like zebras) live here!

The mother of the bride (in gray) and my darling niece, Kelly
(who is a famous blogger)
were just a couple of the beautiful people in the wedding party.

Another was my niece Kerry who was a bridesmaid.

But my new niece, Kristen,
was the star of the show!

There was a grand finale.

One flower girl got lost, but she wandered down the aisle eventually.

Congratulations to Russell and Kristen!

Do you recognize Kristen's grandpa?

Even with the sun in my eyes,
Dick Van Dyke's smile was dazzling!

It was a perfect wedding day!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Making a Home

Something you don't know about me:
I'm an interior designer.

Not professionally—just privately. Matching fabrics, hanging pictures or displaying collections turns on my creativity. Ten years ago we downsized from a house to an apartment, and we've loved it. But after figuring out the (only) arrangement for the furniture and where the artwork worked best, there hasn't been much room to maneuver. Our new townhouse has inspired me!

I got out my graph paper and spent a few hours with a measuring tape at our new place drawing the rooms to scale, windows, doors and outlets included. I made several copies of each page.

Then I measured every piece of furniture I have,

and drew each one to scale. I colored, labeled and cut. Now I can arrange and rearrange the furniture with the flick of a finger! It lets me try the couch in the bedroom, the armoire in the kitchen and the desk in the loft without breaking anyone's back. When a design seems right, I trace the furniture onto its page,

Color it and save it in a folder.
It's fun to have something new to think about!

How would you decorate a new place, or a new space?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Daybreak Townhouse

We'll be here soon!

Apartment living has had its perks: a guy comes to change our furnace filters and fire alarm batteries. They wash our windows regularly, and fix our dryer or disposal whenever we call. We haven't missed mowing the lawn or shoveling the snow, but there are some things we have missed.

Our own front door.

A patio.

A place for a barbecue.

A little touch of green.
(Luckily, someone else will mow it.)

What do you love about where you live?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Exciting News!

We're moving to a brand new place! After ten years in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, we're heading to the other end of the valley (Daybreak for you locals.) Six weeks to plan, organize and pack our stuff. Do you have any moving tips? What worked for you? What didn't? Do tell!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Writing a Book

I wrote the first draft with my heart.
I'm doing the re-write with my head.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Being a Mother

Our family, 1970.

My biggest fear as a little girl was that I'd die before I had kids—I could hardly wait to be a mom. My dream came true July 11, 1970.

Gabi was whisked away to an incubator right after she was born (breach) and I didn't get to see her until she was four hours old. When the nurses wheeled six infants into the hospital ward (babies stayed in the nursery in those days) mine was the only one crying. The other five mothers were skilled at cuddling and nursing, and I imagined their criticism as I tried to quiet my newborn's wails. It was stressful, feeding did not go well, and I was exhausted and relieved when they took her away.

Nowadays new moms jump out of bed and go home hours after delivery, but forty-one years ago we were wimps. We stayed in the hospital three or four days, and a nurse had to walk us to the bathroom or the sitzbath down the hall. Every four hours they brought my hysterical child; I began to dread it. Motherhood was much harder than I'd imagined. Then we had to go home.

On my own, I panicked. I wondered why anyone thought I could be left alone with a baby—I didn't know what to do! Wasn't inexperience a form of child abuse? Gabi cried all the time and so did I. When she was a week old I realized I'd never even said a prayer to be thankful for her, and (I'll admit it now) I wasn't sure I was. The whole thing was so overwhelming, so demanding and so constant.

When I told this story to a friend years later, she asked, "How old were you?" "Twenty," I said. "No wonder," she said. "I felt the same way and I was almost thirty." She went on, "I should have waited a few more years. I just wasn't ready."

I'm so glad I didn't wait until I was ready. How would I get ready anyway? It would be like taking swimming lessons without any water: treading water was just a concept until the day I was in the pool and couldn't touch the bottom. Panic was my first reaction, and I floundered and went under. But then I came back up and discovered I could stay afloat. I learned to relax, and little by little the constant movement of my arms and legs felt natural and routine. That's how motherhood happened for me, too. I needed to be in the experience.

Our family, July 1982

Even as it was happening, I could see that Gabi was teaching me how to be a mother. Now, in retrospect, I am convinced that's the way it was meant to happen. If I'd waited until I was ready, I'd still be waiting. Happily, it didn't occur to me to wait for anybody, in fact I could hardly wait for them to arrive. They were already my life's work.

I chose motherhood as my career. It was never something I fit in around the edges of my life—it was my life. Like with any career, my early days on the job were daunting, and I wondered if I could really do it. Like with any career, there were times when I felt overworked and undervalued. I got tired of the uniform, the cafeteria and the people I worked with. Who doesn't? But thirty years later I retired with competence, experience and full benefits.

Fifteen of our twenty grands, July 2011

This summer has been full of benefits—we've had fun times with all our kids and grandkids, and appreciated them more than ever. This is what I believe—I believe I knew this group in heaven before I was born and had to leave them behind when I came to earth. The yearning I felt to be a mom was because I missed being with them, so I was compelled to get them all here as fast as I could. In that respect, I was totally ready.

I'm offering a prayer of thanksgiving now. I thankful to be a mother.