Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Letter From Heaven

A few weeks back, I went to a funeral for the husband of a friend. Their family chose a very unique poem for the back of the funeral program. The author isn't listed so I don't know who to give credit to, but it is touching so I thought I'd share it here.

A Letter From Heaven

To my dearest family, some things I'd like to say,
First of all I'd let you know that I arrived here okay.
I'm writing this from Heaven, where I dwell with God above
Here there's no more tears of sadness, here is just eternal love.

Please do not be unhappy just because I'm out of sight.
Remember that I am with you every morning, noon and night.
That day I had to leave you when my life on Earth was through,
God picked me up and hugged and said, "I welcome you!"

"It's good to have you back again, you were missed while you were gone.
As for your dearest family, they'll be here later on.
Right now I need you here badly, you're part of my great plan.
There's so much we have to do to help our mortal man."

God gave me a list of things that He wished for me to do,
And foremost on that list was to watch and care for you.
Know that when you lie in bed, the day's chores put to flight
God and I are closest to you... in the middle of the night.

When you think of my life on Earth, and all those loving years
Because you are only human, there are bound to be some tears.
But do not be afraid to cry, for it does relieve the pain.
Remember there would be no flowers unless there was some rain.

I wish I could tell you all that God has planned,
But if I were to tell you, you would not understand.
One thing is for certain though my life on Earth is o'er,
I'm even closer to you now than I ever was before.

There are rocky roads ahead of you and many hills to climb,
But together we can do it by taking it one day at a time.
It was always my philosophy and I'd like it to be yours, too;
That as you give unto the world, the world will give to you.

If you can help somebody who's in sorrow and in pain,
Then you can say to God at night, "My day was not in vain."
And now I am contented that my life was worthwhile
Knowing as I passed along the way I made someone smile.

So if you meet somebody who is sad and feeling low,
Just lend a hand to pick him up and on your way you go.
When you're walking down the street and you've got me on your mind,
I'm walking in your footsteps just half a step behind.

And when it's time for you to go - from that body to be free -
Remember you're not going... you're coming here to me.

Friday, February 22, 2008

What a Week!

I have a co-worker who has been speaking to us in analogy all week. I (and the rest of my team) have been compared to both an untrustably incompetent Home Teacher and a crumbling stone block in the foundation of the Salt Lake Temple from when it was first under construction in the 1800's. I don't know whether to laugh or be offended!

First the Home Teacher analogy... The Home Teachers' job is to visit each family in the Ward and report back to the Bishop if there are problems or unmet needs in the home so they can be addressed. The inference here is that Karl* and I aren't keeping close enough tabs on the set up clerks and raising and correcting issues so at some point the whole system will blow up.

Now for the stone foundation analogy... It is true that the original foundation blocks for the Salt Lake Temple were cut from limestone (?) and cracked under the weight of the granite stacked on top to begin the outside walls. The lighter softer rock just wasn't strong enough to bear the weight of the granite. Those 1870-ish era workers had the grueling job of digging them up and starting over with a stronger granite foundation. It is important to the overall endurance and stability of the structure to have an adequate foundation. Again the inference is that we are all idiots compared to her intelligence, expertise and experience.

Now I have an observation... the person making these thinly veiled criticisms is the one who was sent to teach us. We just can't follow her logic because it flip flops from time to time and there's nothing to quantify why you do it one way this time and under the same set of circumstances do something entirely different next time. It goes round and round and round - sometimes I just feel dizzy. And I didn't even get started on how it's not necessarily the best way to do something just because that's how it's been done for 20 years...

*Karl is not my supervisor's real name. But since I don't know who's reading this I changed the name to protect the innocent. (Always wanted to say that - thanks for the indulgence!)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Africa Is Life Changing

Last Tuesday night for Relief Society Enrichment Meeting, we had invited the co-founders of a non-profit group called Africa Is Life Changing to come and tell us about the things they are doing. They work mostly in Kenya with women and girls. Their stories were interesting and engaging and sometimes heart-wrenching. Be sure to check out the link to their web-site!

One of the things they do (and this is the project my Ward's Relief Society has participated in) is take strips cut from plastic grocery bags to Kenya. The women there crochet them into purses that they sell at their weekly market and are able to make enough money in a month to feed their families. I've been so impressed with this project because we are using something so humble and simple as a used plastic grocery bag (which we all have in spades no matter our economic situation) to help these women lift themselves out of the oppressive poverty they live with. And I feel extra good giving it my full support because it's a hand up rather than a hand out.

Cutting a bag into one long continuous strip is quite an ingenious process that I'm sure someone put a lot of thinking into. You start by laying a plastic grocery bag out flat and smooth on the table in front of you. Then you cut the handles off so that the top is relatively even and smooth. Next you cut across the seam in the bottom and set this aside to tie the bundle you'll end up with at the end. Now you unfold the pleats from the sides and smooth it out as one big tube. Next fold the uncut edge nearest you toward the opposite uncut edge stopping about 2 inches short of folding it in half. Fold the folded over portion in half again by bringing the edge nearest you to meet the top edge of the layer you just previously folded. Fold it one more time the same way so you end up with a piece that's about 4 inches wide where half is two layers of plastic thick and the rest is sixteen layers thick. Now you cut 1 1/2 inch strips through the sixteen layer part but not the part that has only 2 layers so that you end up with a strip of long fringe. Pull that strip over your left arm (if you are right handed) so that the uncut portion is on top and the loops of fringe hang below. Starting nearest your hand, cut on a 45-degree angle from the outside edge on the inside of your arm to the first cut on the outside of your arm and repeat all the way across. You end up with one long, though slightly wavy, strip of plastic. Wind this around your hand into a neat little bundle and use the cut off seam from the bottom of the bag as a tie to keep it together. It takes 50 of these to make a purse.

This was an activity where I was "in charge" and it was hard! There are a ton of details to keep everyone focused on - many of which I didn't anticipate. It felt like a huge portion of them went haywire as the evening got started and I said to a couple of people "This is horrible... I don't ever want to be the leader again!" The Elders Quorum didn't have a key to get into the building to set up tables for us (who'd have guessed that?). The Young Women who we invited to participate spent 90% of the entire budget on table decorations (they were wonderful and whimsical and added to the atmosphere of the evening!). The committee member who was to do all the shopping forgot bowls for the soup and had to make a last minute run to the grocery which got us off to a late start. Another committee member who was making reminder calls didn't start until 8:45 the night before and then went into meltdown mode because we weren't providing a full meal for the kids in nursery (and she doesn't even have kids that young!). And there were more problems... But by the end of the evening, I was happy. Feeling like I'd learned a tremendous amount but pleased nonetheless. We worked through the problems and everyone had a great time visiting and eating. The presentation from Africa Is Life Changing was amazing and inspiring and we all felt spiritually nourished. And in the end, that's what counts!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Valentines Day!

Last night two of my favorite kids, Jonathan and Loran, brought me some Valentines candy. It was kind of funny... I'd bought the same kind of candy to give them and was still sticking on some paper heart doilies and stickers and stuff and making them really mushy and silly. So tonight I'm sitting here sucking on "Sweethearts" while I type.

While we were kind of horsing around and sticking the final stickers down - I got some with the same kind of sayings as on those little candy hearts - Loren told me I needed some step kids. Much as I'd like for her to be one of them, I tried to make a joke out of it and said something like "I'd love some step kids... who do you know who needs an evil stepmother?" That got some giggles and snickers, then they both said "You're not evil. You're nice."

So, what do you make of that little interchange? Part of me was thrilled they were thinking about me in those terms. I've long said if I could roam the world and pick any children I wanted to be mine, Loren and Jonathan and their little brother Bryan would be the ones I'd pick. But not only does their dad seem pretty much not interested, I have NO man-chasing skills. Maybe I should work on that. Got any hints?

Monday, February 11, 2008

I'm So Big and Mean and Tough

I jumped into the middle of a dog fight on the way home from work this afternoon. I'm okay... a few sore muscles and a bit of a scratch across the top of my right hand and maybe a little hoarse from screaming my guts out. But all in all, I'm kind of pleased with myself for keeping one dog from killing another dog... in a grizzly fashion... in front of a bunch of kids.

There were 7 dogs in total - 4 Pit Bulls and 3 Lab/Mix muts. The biggest Lab had the smallest Pit Bull by the neck, shaking him and dragging him on the ground while the smaller dog was screaming in agony. The other dogs were looking for a place to lunge in, but hadn't actually got involved in the altercation yet.

I was walking down 1100 West when I saw some kids running after a group of dogs. The oldest girl was yelling for "Getty" to come. Getty is the attacker. Obviously he didn't come. He jumped on top of the other dog and clamped his jaws down on its neck and started shaking it. I ran across the street and grabbed Getty's neck in both fists, squeezing and twisting as hard as I could. Every time I could get angled right I kicked him in the butt or the ribs full force. Getty didn't budge. So I tried to force him to the ground with my full weight (and that's a lot). He still didn't budge. But I finally got his head twisted so he was having a hard time breathing. I could actually hear him gasping for breath. I yelled at one of the bawling kids to go get an adult NOW!!! And then I started screaming at the top of my lungs right next to his ear.

People must have heard me because all of a sudden there was a Mexican lady with a baseball bat and an old man with a big stick beating the other 5 dogs off. Getty finally let loose of the other dog who quickly found a protected corner in some rubble on the front porch of that house. Getty went after him, but couldn't get hold again. The kid who owns him finally got hold of his chain and drug him home.

Still shaking I called the cops. Got a great response. The respective owners didn't even have their dogs all gathered up yet when the patrol car arrived. Given his history, I think they should take Getty away. But who knows what will really happen?

Getty, aka "evil blood-thirsty beast", is kind of a reddish gold color Lab/Mix that lives in the white house on the north corner of Simondi Av and 1100 West. If you live in the area and have occasion to be on the sidewalk - BEWARE OF THIS DOG! He is vicious. Given the opportunity he will attack you. He's nearly come over the fence at me with teeth bared a number of times. The people who live next door, the Raso's, say he's bitten their kids and grandkids without provocation.

Now I am a great animal lover. And a firm believer in second (and third and fourth) chances. It takes a LOT for me say any animal should be taken away from its family or worse, put down. But this is a case where it would very appropriate! The owners can't, or won't, control him and that is their obligation. We, the public, should not have this menace inflicted upon us!!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Taters, Maters and Other Aters...

No silly... I'm talking garden planning! Along with a big house, I bought a BIG yard last summer with plenty of garden space to supply the whole neighborhood's produce needs. Not that I intend to dive into that gung ho, mind you!

What I have now (under about 6 inches of snow) is a prepared plot about 30X40 feet. There's a little "thicket" of raspberry bushes in one corner but otherwise it's all open space. And yes, I do intend to get that thicket thinned of its dead wood and plant the new growth canes into a row. There is also an apricot tree and 3 kinds of grapes other places in the yard. And with additional and separate spaces to make great flower gardens, this big plot can be all herbs and vegetables. So the big question right now is, what am I going to do with it?

My friend, Jim, from work is a master gardner in his spare time. He's already got tomatoes up and growing in his basement!! After grilling me about the soil condition (I dunno) and the sun exposure (seemed pretty sunny whenever I looked last summer) and what kind of amendments I planned to use (huh?) and a bunch of other things, he told me to start thinking about what I want to grow. And when I had decided on what, I should take a piece of graph paper and draw it out. Then he'll help me change it around so plants with like water needs and compatible sun situations can be grouped near each other. That then becomes my plan.

Okay... so I know I want to grow some red potatoes and some tomatoes. I also want to plant some onions and a jalapeno pepper (think salsa fresca!). And I'd like some tomatillos to experiment with some cooking ideas. Somewhere, either here or in one of the flower gardens, I want to plant perennial herbs like taragon, sage and oregano. Some of the less long-lived ones like parsley, cilantro and basil would also be nice. And I want rhubard and horseradish (yes... I realize it is tear inducing pungent).

So what else goes in a garden? Should I plant radishes, carrots, beans, corn and lettuce? What about a cucumber vine? How much can I realistically take care of after I come home from my day job? How much do I want to commit to?

And there is one caveat. This is all dependent on getting an in-ground water supply from the house out to the garden plot 'cuz I ain't gonna be dragging hose!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Gordon B. Hinckley

On Sunday, January 27, 2008 a man I love and revere passed quietly from this life. He was 97. Tiny, old and frail in body but with a lively spirit and unmatched capacity for goodness. It may seem odd that I've waited for more than a week to add my own personal memorial for this leader of my faith, but I wanted to wait until I had my emotions about President Hinckley sorted out. You see, I haven't felt even the slightest twinge of sadness. When I first heard the news my reaction was "I'm so glad he's with his beloved wife, Marjorie, again! I know how he has missed her." And that's still how I feel today.

The only time, really, that I've felt anything but complete peace was at the public viewing on Friday afternoon. President Hinckley's name has been almost an action verb to me because he was so busy and constantly at work and traveling all over the world to meet Church members. His counsel always urged us to action... "Stand a little taller," "be a little better," "do your part and the best is yet to come." I struggled with seeing him so still. In that same moment, however, I was flooded with a knowledge that ALL is as God has directed and that he's happy and healthy and busily engaged in the Lord's work on that side of the veil now. It's an experience that's hard to describe... there were no words came to my mind, yet it pierced me to the very core of my being as a gift of absolute knowing. And I was able to walk away with a smile while reflecting on a life well lived.

There are so many things that I appreciate about President Hinckley. His sense of humor is just one of them. Among Mormons and many belonging to other faiths it was legendary and endearing. One story I heard told about a Mission President in Japan (maybe?) who had just experienced a devastating flood. A giant wall of water had come down the mountainside and crashed into the Mission Home nearly destroying it. He wrote a very distraught letter to President Hinckley asking what he should do. The answer recalled a similar experience in building the London Temple. President Hinckley mentioned being in waist deep water bailing it out by bucket. And then he suggested that Noah had had it worse.

Another thing that I especially appreciated is that he was fearless in answering questions about LDS doctrine, history and culture. And not just that he was comfortable with tough questions, but that he could answer them with candor and assurance and in a way that no one could find offense. President Hinckley's passion and conviction were ever evident but always tempered with compassion, empathy and a desire to reach out and be inclusive with the rest of the world. We do this most visibly with humanitarian aid the world over. I feel priviledged that, in my own small way, I've had many opportunities to participate in this blessing of other lives.

And finally, what left the greatest impression on me over the past week was the answer given by his biographer, Sheri Dew, when asked what President Hinckley worried about. After talking about his eternal optimism and how he always said "oh, it'll work out" she paused thoughtfully and serious for a moment. Then she said he worried most about creating opportunities for the good people of the world to "bump into" the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that they'd be inclined to listen when it was presented to them in an organized way. I guess that's where I feel like I fit in. The best and most lasting tribute I can offer to him is to simply live what I believe.