Friday, December 20, 2013

Thinking About Christmas

Ben fixed my internet and computer issues this morning. My 20 years of experience with the internet and more than that with computers have not resulted in my becoming the least bit internet or computer savvy

A month or so ago I tried to do something with my Facebook account that Emily could have done in less than 30 seconds, but me it took all morning—that’s how UNsavvy I am. So, thanks, Ben!—I shall regard it as your Christmas present to me!

. . .  Speaking of Christmas . . .

. . . There is this family tradition with meatballs . . . .

For the past 30 or more years, 15 pounds of homemade meatballs and gravy simmering all day long in a crockpot have warmed and charmed us on Christmas Day.

I have usually made the meatballs far in advance of Christmas Day and stored them in the freezer until the big day.

Somehow, it slipped my mind this year.

So, I fear there may be all kinds of sadness on Christmas Day: “What??? NO MEATBALLS???!!!”

Cue the background music: “You’re a mean one Mister Grinch …  your heart’s an empty hole, you’ve got garlic in your soul!”

Another confession: there’s no Christmas tree this year either.

“What??? NO CHRISTMAS TREE???!!!”

Cue the music: “You’re a monster Mister Grinch … (etc., etc.)”

To top it all off, there are also no outside lights decorating the eaves and bushes…

“… your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch.”

Hopefully, Christmas will come anyway.

Hopefully, there will be so much Whoville-like Christmas Spirit and love amongst our family members that no one will even notice what is missing . . .  .

Monday, December 16, 2013

Goodbye Mr. Chips

When I was 18, I saw “Lawrence of Arabia” starring Peter O’Toole in a movie theater in Duluth, Minnesota. I actually watched it twice in the space of a week or two because I was so mesmerized by the stunning, captivating image of heroic Lawrence on the big screen. However, the truth is that the story starts on an exultant high note, but descends slowly (in about 4 hours) into Hell, as Lawrence essentially is driven to a kind of madness. So, I “loved” only the first part of “Lawrence of Arabia.”


Truthfully, it was watching Peter O’Toole (as Lawrence)—who was so dashing, stunning, captivating, and mesmerizing on screen—that I loved. Therefore, when the movie “Lord Jim” came to Duluth, I went to it because it starred Peter O’Toole. I went because I hoped that he would somehow reprise the image of the heroic T. E. Lawrence. Instead, O’Toole’s portrayal of the anguish and psychological turmoil of Jim was so eerily believable that it was deeply disturbing to me. Additionally, “Lord Jim” reminded me of O’Toole’s depiction of T. E. Lawrence’s disturbing descent into madness and Hell, which I did not want to remember.

As I viewed each succeeding Peter O’Toole movie over the years, in my mind’s eye I fondly recalled O’Toole as heroic Lawrence and I sentimentally yearned for just a glimpse of him somewhere in each movie – to no avail. That stunning image was gone forever.* However, O’Toole’s haunting portrayals of madness in Lawrence and in Lord Jim seemed to echo through many of his subsequent movies.
Even though I foolishly yearned for a glimpse of the hero, in time I gradually—if begrudgingly— learned to “appreciate” O’Toole’s immense acting ability. It was clear that he was able to immerse himself so completely into a character that he seemed no longer to be “acting” – he became the part. These portrayals were always disturbing because they were so real.
According to the New York Times:
“His acting method …  was a process that blended ‘magic’ with ‘sweat,’ a matter of allowing a text to flow into his mind and body until he fully inhabited the character…. ‘I use everything – toes, teeth, ears, everything,’ he said."
Indeed! It was obvious: he truly deserved each of those eight Academy Award nominations as best actor!
My favorite O’Toole movie—one that I have watched several times and will yet enjoy watching again in the future—is “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.” I love it because it is sentimental, and gentle, and full of love. It is a story about hope and charity. In his quiet, reserved way, Mr. Chips was truly heroic. And I think that in Mr. Chips, we can actually catch a glimpse the real Peter O’Toole.

 Goodbye, Mr. Chips -- rest in peace.

* There is one image from Mr. Chips that is reminiscent of Lawrence: Mr. Chips runs across campus with his academic robes flying about him; Lawrence runs across the top of a train with his Arabic robes flying about him.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Weather-wise, it is a perfect Thanksgiving morning: sunny and calm with a few patchy clouds and an expected high temperature of about 50o.  

In stark contrast, I can still vividly recall the Thanksgiving of 2010. An arctic cold front blasted through Provo-Orem with temperatures in the single digits and a deadly wind chill factor. That weekend, a big snow storm dropped at least 6 inches of snow on us. (Shudder!) And, while the 2010 Thanksgiving weather was not “typical” for Provo-Orem, neither is today’s weather typical. This is probably the best Thanksgiving Day weather since we’ve moved here. I think it even rivals the lovely November weather we experienced in Albuquerque from 1993 to 1999.

The weather, of course, is merely the back-drop – albeit, a splendid, spectacular back-drop! The major focal point, however, of what will be perfect about today is the family gathering at Dara’s house. About half of our children and grandchildren will share one another’s boisterous company and a potluck feast during one raucous, breath-taking, whirlwind celebration in the afternoon. (Dara is such a good sport – and gracious hostess – to share her spacious home that can accommodate a crowd of 20 that seems more like a crowd of 40!)

Abraham Lincoln issued his proclamation of a national “day of Thanksgiving and Praise” 150 years ago, on October 3 1863. The call to recognize God’s blessings came even amidst the sorrows and devastations of the ongoing Civil War. It is a perennial human irony that we often do not recognize God’s many blessings in our times of prosperity. Then again, in times of sorrow and trial, it is also so human a tendency to “charge God foolishly” rather than to remain faithful like Job. Therefore, because of our human weaknesses and failings, we need this special day of Thanksgiving and Praise to remember our beneficent Father, and the debt we owe to God and to so many others.
I am deeply grateful for family and friends, and God's many blessings.
 Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Winter in Utah

I have a small Holmes space heater that I have been using for the past couple of weeks while I am at my computer desk. It’s purpose is to keep my feet and legs warm. Meanwhile, while it is ostensibly warming up my cold feet and legs, my upper half is often too warm. Goofy body.
Feeling over-cooked on the top today made me remember being a kid on our Minnesota farm.  During the winter, the old fashioned wood burning cook stove in the kitchen produced enormous heat. I loved to sit on a chair near  the back of the stove, soaking up the Kelvins.

Between the ages of 8 and 21, I lived through 13 brutal Minnesota winters. Mercifully, temperatures below  -40oF [40 degrees below zero] ]were only an occasional and not an every day occurrence. However, in my estimation, any temperature or windchill factor below 0oF was, by definition, brutal. And potentially deadly. And that describes most Minnesota winter days.

As a matter of fact, I personally dealt with my own first degree frostbite symptoms throughout the duration of each Minnesota winter: itching and painful toes, fingers, thighs and buttocks.  Sometimes I scratched the affected areas until they bled. I remember many occasions when I immersed my frozen hands into cool water that felt like it was boiling hot. And this in spite of my best efforts to dress warmly—I  was not like some of today’s young people who insist on wearing shorts and sandals year round even during a blizzard—but somehow whatever I wore was never sufficient.

Consequently, at the end of each brutal wintry day, as I roasted slowly next to the great cook stove, I often thought of the Robert Service poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” At the end of the poem, the corpse of Sam McGee is smiling in the midst of the cremation flames, and says, “Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm!” I felt great empathy for Sam.

Of course, I no longer live in Minnesota—nor even in Indiana, for that matter (I also spent 8 semi-brutal winters in Indiana).

Now I live in Utah. Here, our license plates proclaim, “Greatest Snow on Earth.” In the recent past, it has even been possible to go snow skiing in the mountains on the 4th of July! However, Utah winters (in general) could hardly be characterized as brutal.

Winter temperatures at our house (in Provo-Orem) during the past dozen years have not once reached brutal (0oF).  Therefore, in my estimation, as long as this trend continues, there is no justification for complaining about Utah winters.

So, hush! 
If things change, there’s always St. George! (And space heaters.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stephen R. Covey and My Daily Private Victory

One year ago today, Stephen Covey passed away due to complications from injuries he suffered in an unfortunate biking accident. I am reminding you of him today because I have been reminded of him nearly every day since his death. The reason I have thought of him is because I have a file in my computer documents called “Daily Private Victory” which I see every day. “Daily Private Victory” is what Covey called his daily lifestyle practices of continually “sharpening the saw.” While Covey’s “daily private victory” included four dimensions: spiritual, physical, social/emotional, and mental, I chose to focus on the spiritual in my own personal daily private victory. During the past year, under each day’s date, I have logged the scriptures that I have read that day.

On 16 July 2012, when Covey died, I was about halfway through The Book of Mormon and I was also reading Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s talks.  Additionally, a footnote in one of Elder Maxwell’s talks had led me to the writings of Malcolm Muggeridge, including his Confessions of a 20th Century Pilgrim, A Third Testament, and “The Christ-Centered Life,” which I was also in the process of reading in July 2012. At that time, however, my reading of the scriptures was not always consistently done on a daily basis. My purpose in deciding to keep this log was so that I would become more consistent in my daily reading of the scriptures.

So, each day I see the words: “Daily. Private. Victory.” Daily reminds me that I made a commitment to read the scriptures every day. Private reminds me that keeping my commitment has everything to do with my spiritual health and strength. Victory reminds me that the very real struggle is between my “natural man” and my spiritual nature. “Daily. Private. Victory.” And then I log in the readings of that day. I am happy to report that although I have not been perfect at it, I have indeed improved! In mid-December 2012, I finished reading the second half of The Book of Mormon. The next day, I began again. A few days ago, I yet again completed the cycle and began again.

I expect that there are those who would wrinkle up their noses at so many re-readings of The Book of Mormon. I may even have been one of those in the past. But, the counsel from more than one Prophet of the Church has been to read daily from The Book of Mormon. Obedience brings blessings. (Incidentally, for those who might be concerned about such things, I am also reading from The Doctrine and Covenants, and from the writings and talks of the General Authorities, among other things.)

Many thanks to Stephen R. Covey for his inspirational example and teachings. He is gone, but not forgotten.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Four-Year-Old Epicurean

This evening I caught a glimpse into the mind of a four-year-old Epicurean.

Henry had asked his father to put mustard and relish on his hot dog bun, “and ketchup, of course,” he said.

His mother cautioned him about the relish since he’d not had relish on his prior hot dog experiences. But Henry insisted.

After a few bites, however, Henry decided that the relish was not to his liking, so the relish was scraped off the hot dog and out of the bun.

About half way through the thus altered hot dog and bun, Henry began hoping for a reprieve of some kind. But his parents were not persuaded. They expected him to finish his hot dog before he could have chips or watermelon.

As his Grammie, I felt sympathy for the little guy’s chore of choking down that bun slathered with ketchup, mustard, and relish juice. I hoped that I might revive his interest in finishing his hot dog by announcing that we would be having homemade banana cream pie for dessert.

I began to cut the pie into pieces and to top each piece with an overly generous dollop of Cool Whip.

The first piece went to the grandpa who inhaled his piece in a flash. The next two pieces went to Ben and Emily. Then Audrey was ready for hers. Audrey’s pie was half the size of the adult serving, but it nevertheless had a scoop of Cool Whip that more than equaled the size of her pie slice.

Henry was still struggling with his hot dog and bun. Suddenly the hot dog squirted out of the bun and landed on the seat of his chair. The bun and hot dog were reunited, and Henry’s task continued.

In spite of his hot dog struggles, Henry was monitoring the dispersal of each banana cream pie slice topped with a magnificent cloud of Cool Whip. Last of all, I dished up Henry’s slice of pie. It was like Audrey’s, with a towering billow of Cool Whip perched atop the pie, and I set it on the table just out of his arm’s reach.

At that point, Henry stuffed the remains of his hot dog and bun into his mouth. His mouth was so full, I was sure that it would impossible to chew and that he would choke. 

Amazingly, at last he triumphed. His eyes sparkled as he was given his pie, and he began to dip the tip of his fork into the cloud of Cool Whip and savor the taste. Dip. Taste. Dip. Taste.

Then, suddenly Henry let out a horrified howl: the cloud of Cool Whip had toppled off his pie onto the side of the plate. Grief overwhelmed the little guy who cried, “It’s RUINED!” More howls.

Emily, as any good Mommy would do, quickly scooped the Cool Whip back atop the pie, and spread it around so that it would not fall off again. “There!” she said, expecting a return of happiness and calm.

Henry’s grief and howls and protests only increased. “It’s RUINED! I never want this to happen again in my whole life!”

It was a moment of such drama as I had not seen in some time. I couldn’t help but laugh.

But I understood:

Henry had been given a “perfect” piece of pie with an astonishing, fantasy-fulfilling mound of Cool Whip on top. He had envisioned himself savoring each bite. He had imagined extending his pie experience for as long as possible. Maybe forever. He had contemplated the perfect and most memorable way to eat his pie: it would be a memory to last a life time.

Then, tragically, it was all ruined.


It’s hard being four.



Friday, April 12, 2013

Seeing the Good

Today it’s a beautiful spring morning here along the Wasatch Mountains of north-central Utah. The sky is a stunning, smile-inducing, cloudless blue. Snow-capped, majestic Mount Timpanogos, contrasts exquisitely with the green grass, jaunty daffodils, and blossoming fruit trees in my backyard. It’s supposed to warm up to about 60 degrees by this afternoon. Almost Paradise.

With such a glorious day before me, I whimsically wish I had the energy of Henry, nearly age four, so that I could run everywhere – as he wants to do – all day long. With that energy, I would be able to conquer the world: I could do the spring cleaning of the entire house before lunchtime, plant flowers in my flower beds and visit all those whom I love most in this valley before dinnertime, write interesting and encouraging letters to half a dozen loved-ones in the evening, and end the day reading inspiring and uplifting literature for an hour before falling asleep with a grateful smile on my face . . . .

Being a realist, however, I recognize my limits. So, I thank Heavenly Father for the beautiful day and for whatever energy I have, and then I set about doing what I can to ‘see the good’ and do the best I can in my present circumstances.

Just being able to see the beauties of nature outside my window and to acknowledge God as the creator is soul-healing. Everyone I know is searching for a soul-healing ‘balm of Gilead’ or a place of refuge from the stresses and storms of daily life. Sadly, many choose endless mind-numbing activities, hoping in vain that they will feel better.

I had a break-through experience in ‘seeing the good’ recently.  I had been guilty of becoming angry or irritated every time I was compelled to clean up a mess that someone else had created. But, gradually, I began to see that, while I was in the process of cleaning up these messes, many times the mess was indeed a blessing in disguise. Important things needed to be done that I would not have discovered if I had not had to stop to clean up the mess.

I hope I have had enough experience now to always look for the good, and see the good, in what otherwise looks like a frustrating and unnecessary mess. Becoming angry or irritated is soul-wounding, to say the least.

May all the “messes” in your day today turn out to be blessings in disguise, too.


Thursday, April 11, 2013


It's been such a long time since I posted anything.

But, never fear, I have been thinking.

And thinking.

And thinking.

I expect to blog some of my thoughts soon.


I'll be back!