Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Would-Be Christmas Card

Something had to give this year.  I decided that back in October when, on top of an already crazy holiday season, I was asked to plan and direct our church's Stake Christmas program.  Yeah, I said October.  Not a lot of time to start a program from scratch, and I mean scratch.  They wanted something brand new and "QUALITY."  That was the word I heard over and over again.  Quality.  In two months.  Okay...

So something had to give...and it wasn't going to be my sanity.  Although that was sometimes questionable between choosing music, writing a script, rehearsing a 60-something voice choir, designing a slide show, lighting, costuming, advertising...oh, and you know...Thanksgiving and Christmas--that stuff.  So, after considering some of the items that had to be done, Christmas cards didn't make the cut.  After 17 years of consecutive card sending, 2011 feels a little naked, undone, unfinished, if you will.

And then, look what Mr. Wicke went a did.  He designed the cutest card we've probably ever had.  (Guess what's on his list of to-do's next year?)  Except he just did it two days ago.  And just for his facebook page, I guess, so you won't be getting it in the mail, but if I post it here can you just pretend you did?

And if I push hard enough, I may even get him to write a Christmas letter.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Who Invited the Grinch?

For two years running now, singing in a community choir has given me my favorite holiday memory.  Last year it was caroling and having the recipient close their garage door in our face (which takes a pretty long time and is really awkward.  I LOVED it!)  This year, it was during a really weird concert out in Sun City West.  It's a long way across the valley to get there, all of us fighting traffic the entire way.  When we finally arrive and take the stage, the piano is out of tune, the room has no ring to it, and the audience is nearly comatose.  Tough performance, but we smile, sing great and soldier on.   Then we get to the sing-a-long song (because every holiday concert needs a sing a long song!)  Our conductor turns to the audience and enthusiastically says, "Okay!  Now it's your turn!" and one old guy near the middle loudly grunts, "Oh, Lord!" so very loudly that it cracks me up.  I can barely sing the next song for laughing.

You gotta' love the holiday spirit...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Trying to Answer: Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen (part 3 of a 3 part series continued)

When it comes to dealing with pain, I'm a novice really.  I'm just trying to figure it out, so I turn to the pros.  People who have been there and done that, who have not only survived adversity but thrived.  They have much to teach us. 

The first important thing I've learned is that we must recognize that there is always a choice.  Viktor Frankl, a survivor of on of our world's most horrid injustices, a Nazi concentration camp, said, "A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes - within the limits of endowment and environment- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions but not on conditions...We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."


Here he teaches that a great stumbling block in the path of every human being is to blame the results of our lives on their circumstances.  In doing so we fictitiously relieve ourselves of responsibility--which can never really be--but simultaneously, we also remove our free will, making ourselves victims of those circumstances which we blame.  It is a powerless position, and we, who chose agency in the very beginning, don't like the way it feels.  It is miserable. 

I turn to an anonymous teacher, one who chose not to be identified in an article entitled "The Journey to Healing" in the September 1997 issue of Ensign magazine.  She said this: "I am a survivor of childhood physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.  I no longer view myself as a victim.  The change has come from inside of me--my attitude.  I do not need to destroy myself with anger and hate.  I don't need to entertain thoughts of revenge.  My Savior knows what happened.  He will be just.  I will leave it in His hands.  I will not be judged for what happened to me, but I will be judged by how I let it affect my life.  I am responsible for my actions and what I do with my knowledge.  I am not to blame for what happened to me as a child.  I cannot change the past.  But I can change the future.  I have chosen to heal myself and pass on to my children what I have learned.  The ripples in my pond will spread though future generations."

She has taken back her power through the powerful tool of forgiveness, a much misunderstood topic.  Forgiveness isn't so much for the offender as it is for the offended.  Forgiveness means giving up the anger, frustration, resentment, blame, and guilt of what is past so that it no longer can affect the present negatively.  It means we trust in a God who can and will make things right, that justice will be done, and that we can have peace now.  There are things we must all forgive, and the sooner we can do it, the more happy, peaceful, and productive our lives will be.

There also seems to be a connection in her story to finding meaning in the suffering one has undergone.  To hearken back to the wisdom of Viktor Frankl, he has said, "“In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice...If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.”  The anonymous woman, though I'm sure she would trade her past circumstances, may not trade the wisdom, insight, empathy, and self-worth she has gained because of them.  Could one exist without the other?  Could she have gained those same characteristics any other way?  I don't know, but what I do know is that God is capable of taking the ugliest, most painful situations of our lives and using them as our best teachers.  This particular woman has given her suffering meaning by becoming an agent for change and a teacher for future generations.  She provides a living example of another one of Frankl's resounding truths: "To give light one must endure burning."

Next, in one of the great ironies of life, we must use our agency to submit our will to the Fathers.  No where is there a better example of this than in the life of our Savior.  A every turn he communicated, "Not my will, but thine."   As Robert D. Hales says, "By His perfect life, He taught us that when we choose to do the will of our Heavenly Father, our agency is preserved, our opportunities increase, and we progress."  Our agency, the first gift of our Father to us, is truly the only thing that is uniquely ours to give because it is this agency that allows us to choose God or not.  He has given it to us knowing that we can wield it to turn away from Him, but if we will lay it on the alter and like Jesus say, "Thy will be done," we are trusting in a creator who dreams bigger dreams for us than we do for ourselves.  We rely on the Master who knows more than we know, even about ourselves. 

In painful circumstances, we must remember that we are always valuable, that God always loves us and believes in us, and that He will provide every needful thing.  In the LDS religion we are taught, "Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their won free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.  FOR THE POWER IS IN THEM, wherein they are agents unto themselves.  And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward" (Doctrine and Covenants 58:27-28).  What is that power He is talking about?  It must be, at least in great part, the power to choose--to choose Him, to choose His Son, to choose happiness, to choose the right, to choose a better way of living. 

Life has a way, sometimes through adversity, of questioning us.  That, I think, was always God's intent.  In response to life's questioning we get to choose, and what we choose to do determines who we will become; that is our final answer. 

In Mosiah 8:18 we read, "Thus God has provided a means that man, through faith, might work mighty miracles; therefore he becometh a great benefit to his fellow beings."  I still believe in a God that can work miracles, and I might be a little closer to understanding the real miracle of living.  I've come to a place that can dash my heart to pieces, it's true; but through my faith in our Savior's atonement it can be repaired, and while it is being sewn up again I gain patience, and wisdom, and generosity, and empathy, and understanding, and kindness, and forgiveness, a benefit not only to me but those in my circle of influence...Isn't that the miracle?  And if the miracle I seek is for him to keep my heart whole in the first place won't I miss what He is really trying to do for me?  Won't I miss the miracle altogether?

So I'm grateful for my life--all of it!  The mess, the hurt, the worry, the sorrow, as well as all the good stuff that goes along with it.  I'm grateful for the miracle that is living and for a wise Father who allows me to experience all of it and who has lovingly provided His Son to make sure I can find my way back home.  I certainly don't seek adversity, but I am beginning to understand its needful place in answering this vital question:  "Who will I be even when things go wrong?"

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Trying to Answer: Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen (part 3 of a 3 part series)


I'm trying to answer these questions for no one but myself, but if you are interested in reading my first two essays, you can find them here and here.

In the middle of our infertility issues, I remember wondering which of all the terrible things I had ever done had caused this to happen, for surely this was some kind of punishment.  After all, I believe in a God of miracles.  I know that He and His Son can cure any affliction.  Clearly, I was unworthy of such a blessing.  Or maybe I was just so stubborn that God had to teach me the hard way.  Or maybe I just didn't have the kind of faith necessary to call forth such a miracle.  Whatever it was, whether in my past or present, obviously the problem was due to some deficiency in me, and God was just going to have to punish it out of me.  That was the conversation in my head on the bad days, even though I knew better. 

I don't, in fact, believe in a wrathful, angry, vengeful God, but when things go wrong, it's only human nature to find a reason for it, and sometimes when there is no good explanation, the one we grasp at is that our suffering must be a sign of God's displeasure.  Suddenly, God no longer resembles a loving father, but looks more like Zeus, grabbing that lightening bolt of his in rage and pointing it right at my back.  And so it was that in my late 20's I began to question the nature of God, His plan, His purposes, and my place within all of it.  Who was He, really?  And who was I to Him?  Once so sure of the answers--at least when the questions were much more simple--I was now floundering in deeper waters.

Then one day, as I turned to John, I read, "And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.  And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?  Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him" (John 9:1-3).  Never before had this particular passage spoken to personally to me.  It looked like I was asking an age old question, and there was peace in Christ's answer...but there were more questions, too.  Like, what exactly are the works of God?  And how, exactly, were they going to be made manifest in our infertility?  I still didn't have the whole answers for those.

As I have come to believe, the true answer, I think, begins in the lesson of the third of the host of heaven who in their premortal existence followed Satan and his plan for forced salvation.  Elder Robert D. Hales taught that, "Those who followed Satan lost the opportunity to receive a mortal body, live on Earth, and progress.  Because of the way they used their agency, they lost their agency."  What I find fascinating in that teaching is the connection between progress and agency.  Because they do not have the opportunity to experience mortal life, in all it's imperfection, they can not progress.  There is a direct correlation there, and it hints, I believe, at what the works of God actually entail.

His goal does not seem to be to provide a perfect life for each of us, but rather to give us life so that we might become perfected.  He doesn't seem to be so interested in clearing our path but far moreso in clarifying our hearts.  Like a good parent, He knows that what is best for us isn't that we are always just happy.  If that were the case He would give us everything we want the very minute we want it.  He would protect us from natural consequences.  He would shield us from pain.  Every real life parent knows how well that would turn out, right?  Though we want our children to be happy, we know that focusing primarily on giving them only happiness will actually end in misery.  God knows that real happiness--progression, salvation, and eternal life--come with certain costs.  Costs that seem necessary in some larger way.  In making those payments we have to opportunity to reap gread dividends, but He also knows that it is how we manage those payments that will make all the difference.

Our use of agency in responding to pain determines the outcome.  Pain does not have to embitter us.  Pain does not have to ruin us.  I absolutely know that there is a way to encounter pain so that it can be our best teacher.

(to be continued...because although I have deep thoughts, I have a life that gets in the way of writing them down.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Whoops!


My mom missed her flight.

It was a bad moment in my kitchen when, at 12:15 pm she realized that her plane left at 12:25 pm instead of 2:50 pm.  I may have heard her curse.  Maybe that happened.  You'll never hear me confirm it.  (Not in front of her, anyway.)

I felt really terrible.  I should have double checked, but Mom doesn't like to feel like she is being "taken care of."  I wouldn't either.  Not after almost 80 years of living.  So I try to give her her space.  Still, I should have double checked because then it would have kept her from saying, "Well, that's it.  I'm done flying.  I just can't do it."  Four days later I may be close to talking her down from that ledge.  Maybe.  I can't be sure.  I may never see her again.

I credit her overreaction to the two hours we waited in line to REBUY a ticket.  That's right.  No refunds.  No credit.  Just forfeit the ticket and start again.  It was ugly.  And it may have been the wheelchair she had to sit in because her back started killing her after 40 minutes.  That hurt her pride.  Aging stinks.

But, on the bright side, she was able to spend a few days with her sister and sister-in-law in Sun City.  That perked her up a bit.  And today I plan to let her beat me in cards.  Later I will pray for snow.  Lots and lots of snow for Wyoming.

If all goes well, I may see her back down here in January. 

(image found here.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stick a Fork in Me


(My brother's going to LOVE this photo!)
We had a great Thanksgiving.  Let me announce that right at the get-go.  I LOVED it.  But may I also confess that I am exhausted?  Just absolutely tuckered out.

Here's how it went down:
Week before Thanksgiving:  Paint 2 rooms.  Move furniture, toys and about 200 books up and down the stairs.

Sunday:  Mom arrives.

Monday:  Shop for an enormous amount of food. 

Tuesday:  Continue shopping for food.  This time braving Costco.  It's nuts, but I bump into 2 strangers who exhibit so much kindness that they reignite my hope in mankind.

Wednesday:  Clean, clean, clean, clean.  Strip 6 beds and make up 10.

Wednesday night:  Two of my brothers arrive with their families.  That's 12 house guests, but whose counting?  Start baking pies at 9:30 pm.  Finish at 1:00 am.

Thursday:  Put out a self-serve breakfast of bagels and cereal while preparing Thanksgiving for 22 people.  It's eaten in half and hour.  But it's really good.  Enjoy an afternoon of watching football, playing games, and eating turkey sandwiches.

Friday:  Waffles, fruit, and vanilla syrup for a late breakfast.  Thomas' family joins us, and we enjoy a game of touch football out at the park.  Later that night,  I sing in a concert while everyone else eats leftovers.  After everyone goes to bed, Mr. Wicke and I try to restore some order in the house in preparation for tomorrow.

Saturday:  Up early for Griffin's baptism.  My brother Ken and his family head back to St. George. The rest of us rush home and prepare a lunch for 30 people.  We serve cold cuts, salad, chips, hot spinach artichoke dip, sparkling apple cider, and lemon and chocolate cakes. Our families hang out and play games.  That evening I make an easy sausage & broccoli pasta while my brother, Curt, whips up a baked brie as well as another pecan pie.  We visit late into the night.

Sunday:  Curt and his family prepare to go.  We send them off with an egg and ham scramble, toast, and Orange Julius.  They drive away, and I put a roast in the crock pot and baked potatoes in the oven in preparation for dinner with Thomas' family.  We attend church.  My friend tells me I look really tired.  She's right.  After church I hurriedly prepare popovers and steamed broccoli.  After dinner everyone else cleans up while I begin two lemon meringue pies.  I don't quite finish before I have to leave for Stake choir practice.  I give Mr. Wicke instructions on how to finish.  I come home to two delicious pies and a card game of Phase 10.  When that breaks up, Thomas' brother stays and visits.  We hit the hay at 12:30 am.

Monday morning:  I wake up late.  Miraculously, we get the kiddos off to school on time and I survey the damage.  As my father once said, "I don't know whether we should clean it up or burn it down."  All I know is that I'm ready for a nap.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Bloched


Last spring I had the chance to visit the Carl Bloch exhibit in Provo, Utah.  It was, in a word, magnificent.  So inspiring and beautiful.  I have an artist's heart, but I have not been blessed with an artist's eye or hands, and so I must content myself with looking at the masterpieces of others.  Ohhh, and what a master Bloch is.  I was touched most deeply by his sympathy for the human condition.  I think that quality is what gave him his ability to depict the Savior so powerfully.  That, and this little quote that explains so much of his process:

"God helps me--that's what I think--and then I am calm." --Carl Bloch

I wrote it down on a little scrap of paper and have been carrying it with me ever since.  Like Bloch I believe there is a higher power that can help me.  And I know when He is present I am calm, even amidst the storm.  I think He can help me today.  And every day.

I am not an artist.  But I am a creator.  We all are.  Creating and crafting moments that, at the end of our lives, can be our masterpiece.  So inspiring.  So beautiful.  And God helps us--that's what I think, too.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Run, Run as Fast as You Can

I'm running uphill faster than I know how.  Anyone else?  Yes, it is that time of year again...when the world falls in love and moms lose their minds.  (I don't think that last bit made the final cut of the song, but it should have if it was going for truth.) 

Today I made it through getting the kids ready, making the beds, one piano lesson, making lunches, a quick morning pick up, Albertsons, park playgroup, Costco, 2 voice lessons, homework, bathroom cleaning, one bleeding cut on a child's head (no stitches necessary, thank goodness), dinner, children's reading (during which I kinda' sorta' fell asleep...don't tell), family home evening, book before bedtime, one load of laundry, and remaking the bed before I fall into it.  And I didn't get to half the items on my to-do list; one of which was
to compose my "Thankful List" this year.  Please, Lord, give me time to be thankful.

Here's a short version.  This year I am thankful for:
1.  a healthy body that works.
2.  healthy and happy kids.
3.  a solid, supportive, fantastic husband.
4.  a mother who still walks the earth to love me like nobody else.
5.  vision.
6.  a big family that I know I can count on.
7.  QT
8.  great reads.
9.  laughter.
10.  hope.
11.  dear, wonderful, thoughtful friends.
12.  a lovely home.
13.  faith.
14.  randomly kind strangers.
15.  a toddler who is totally entertaining.
16.  a son who is inventive, creative, and curious.
17.  a daughter who is one of my favorite people to be with.
18.  date nights.
19.  a Savior who can work miracles.
20.  the memory of a wise father.
21.  beauty all around me.
22.  dessert.

You know there's more.  But it's bedtime.  I got a lotta' runnin' to do tomorrow.  I'm also thankful there are tomorrows.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Things are a Little Off Kilter...

This is not my house, but it feels like my house.

1.  My daughter was home yesterday after waking us up at 5:30 am with these words:  "I just threw up."

2.  My son is home today.  I have a sneaking suspicion that he is not really that sick...but I can't prove it.

3.  I am in the middle of a giant painting project.  Again.  I know.  Don't say anything.

4.  There are two things that make Mr. Wicke grumpy:  cleaning the garage and painting projects.  I can't explain it, but they do.

5.  My mom is flying in on Sunday.  The house--which currently resembles a nuclear waste dump (see #3) must be back in order by then.

6.  My daughter had to wait for the dryer to finish this morning so that she had something to wear to school.  (Again, see #3.)

7.  I am feeling my age.  My lower back is killing me, and I am sore.  (Stupid #3.)

8.  Having the kids home from school is not helping me accomplish #3.

9.  Quite frankly I'd rather do anything than #3.

10.  Wish me luck.

P.S.  A giant thank you to a wonderful friend who read on Facebook that my daughter was sick and showed up at our door with homemade chicken noodle soup and hot rolls.  She is Wonder Woman and deserves an award.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Definition of Nothingness

Renoir, A Self Portrait

Currently, I am reading a biography of Renoir written my his son Jean.  This little bit struck me as wise this morning:

In discussing his father's personal tastes and asthetics he said, "A visitor once remarked to him: 'What I like about this brand of brandy is that the quality is always the same.  There's never any unpleasant surprise.' 

'What a good definition of nothingness,' answered Renoir." (Renoir, My Father, pg. 381.)

I guess the same could be said about life itself, could it not?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sorry, It's Personal

Mr. Steinbeck

John Steinbeck once said something about writing that I wish I remembered word for word.  I don't.  I wrote it down--or actually, I told Logan to write it down because I was driving across 4 states at the time.  She did, painstakingly I might add, but that 3 ring notebook has long since disappeared probably somewhere 2 states away. The memory of it, though, has not.  He said something about how he didn't write to tell other people what to think but, rather, that he wrote to understand what he thought himself.

When I heard that it was like lightening.

And so, these last few posts, haven't been for anyone but me, really.  I'm just busy speaking out loud so that I know what I'm thinking.  Because in putting words together, lining them up and ordering them, they suddenly clarify and make some sense of what feels nonsensical sometimes. 

That's all.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Trying to Answer: Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen? (part 2 of a 3 part series)


I am not a real time blogger.  If I were, I would blog even when I am sick, which I have been.  The kind of sick that makes me forget to put homework in my kids' backpacks, or makes me let them watch far too much TV instead of insisting that they read, or makes me take a nap in the middle of the afternoon...that kind of sick.  It's been going around here in Mesa.  Hope you don't get it while reading this.  I shouldn't be contagious anymore...

Nobody likes pain.  Most of us do what we can to avoid it because...well...it's painful.  And who wants that?  The fact that some actions result in painful circumstances is not lost on me.  I really like the commandments for the very reason that total freedom is not totally free.  God's commandments are statements of fact about natural consequences of certain behaviors.  The "Thou Shalt Nots" are shalt nots because those things will hurt us.  Every time.  He doesn't want that for us either, and because He is a loving parent, he gives us plenty of guidance about dangerous actions.

Those of us accustomed to faith get used to the idea that living with some restrictions actually makes us more free.  But I propose that some of us get a little too used to it, and we become somewhat confused in this area, assuming that by doing what is right we can--or should--be able to avoid all pain.  Then, when we are blindsided by difficulty, we find ourselves saying things like, "But I did what I was supposed to do.  Where are the blessings?  This wasn't supposed to happen to me."  This is a misconception that will lead us further away from God and from His healing power.

Certainly, obedience to the commandments saves us from the consequences of our own poor choices, but if we believe for one minute that obedience will keep us from all pain, we are bound to be frustrated and our faith will be weakened. As we have already discussed, we live in an imperfect world where we confront disease, disasters, and death. Those are givens, and they will touch us all in one way or another. But we must also come to terms with the fact that we share this earth with other millions of our Father’s children who have as much right to their agency as we do, and sometimes, sadly, their misuse of it will effect us. The outcomes of these poor decisions run the gamut from disappointing to horribly unspeakable, but always it is unjust. It is unfair. However, let us remember that we did not fight to come to a world that was fair.


In our premortal existence Lucifer stepped forward with a plan where not even one soul would be lost. Indeed, it was a plan of rebellion, not only against the Father but against the principle of agency. Marion Hanks taught that: “Lucifer had no love in his heart, no real concept of freedom or respect for it. He had no confidence in the principle or in us. He argued for forced salvation, for imposed survival, for an agencyless round trip to the earth and back again. None would be lost, he insisted. But he seemed not to understand that none would be any wiser, either, or any stronger or more compassionate or humble or grateful or more creative, under his plan.”

Then Christ stepped forward and exercised his agency to support our Father’s plan and offer himself up as a savior for us. To cover our shortcomings, our pains, our disappointments with his blood.

And we chose. A third of our brothers and sisters followed Satan, and we—here on this earth—had enough faith in Jesus Christ to choose a life that was sometimes unfair. We believed he could cover us.  Even when circumstances are unfair.  Even when we do everything right and we experience pain anyway.  Even when it is not our fault.

Pain, adversity, uncertainty, difficulty--we will experience them all here in mortality.  There is no escape route.  No easy way.  As Dr. Carlfred Brokerick said, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not insurance against pain. It is a resource in the event of pain.”  We will not be saved from pain because of our faith, but because of our faith we can know what to do with it when it comes.  Our faith--even in our darkest moments--can lead us to Him in whom we can trust, who is The One who can heal us.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Photo Essay: A Sick Day for Momma


No sick days.  No vacations.  No coffee breaks, lunch hours, or paycheck...And I wouldn't trade it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Trying to Answer: Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen? (part 1 of a 3 part series)


Let me first say:  On the scale from 1-10 of "The Most Horrible Things that Could Happen" I live at a one.  Really.  I haven't known a lot of horror, lucky me.  I've had a few bummers to deal with.  All of us do.  And sometimes circumstances lead us to wonder, "Why does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?"  If he truly is God--all-powerful, all-knowing, omniscient Alpha and Omega--then why?  Why allow the innocent to suffer?  Or evil to go unpunished?  Why the needless destruction and misery?  Why, dear God, is life so unfair?

It's not a new question.  I'm not the first and will certainly not not be the last to wonder what exactly is going on up there in the heavens.  ("Hello, up there...Anybody home?")  It's a fundamental question of anyone of faith.  My own religious faith is so much a part of my guiding voice that I can not examine these questions without referring to it.

As a part of my faith, I believe that we lived with God before ever coming to earth, and I believe the answer begins there in this premortal existence.  There we were first given and exercised our agency--the ability to act according to the moral agency which God gives us and to be accountable for those choices. 

We lived with a loving Father, whose goal was and is to see us progress in light, understanding, and knowledge, so that we could become like Him and live with Him forever.  To do this we needed experience.  And Father set forth a plan where we would come to earth, receive a body, choose to act between good and evil, and progress.  Our agency was central to that plan.

The Book of Mormon 2 Nephi chapter 2 is an outstanding lesson on the gift of agency, and I'll borrow from it liberally to explain.  If we had not been given the ability to choose "we would have remained in a state of innocence, having no joy, for we would know no misery.  Doing no good, for we would know no sin."  And so God--knowing we would hurt, loved us enough to want us to grow and allowed us to act for ourselves, which would be impossible except that we be enticed by the one or the other.  Therefore, it needs be that there is an opposition in all things.  Righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.  And so it needs be that all of these things--both the light and the dark--should be part of this existence.  Without this opposition there would be no choice, and without choice no agency, and without agency no progress.  And then the whole point of our existence here would be frustrated; we and the earth would be been created for a thing of naught; wherefore there would have been no purpose in the end of its creation.  It would have destroyed the wisdom of God and his eternal purposes as well as His power, and mercy, and justice.

This world was put in place to be the best learning lab for each of us. Yes, it is imperfect, and unjust, and unfair, but in all of that it is the perfect place for us to learn discernment, to practice choice, and to determine our responses to circumstances not of our choosing. I am not convinced that God "sends" any hardship into our lives, but I know that he created a place where they would certainly be encountered.


This opportunity we have been given to face opposition may be the most meaningful expression of God's belief in us.  Marion D. Hanks said that "He loves us and believes in us and has done and will do anything He can to help us, but He will not impose on our agency.  God so loved that He would not shield us from the perils of freedom, from the right and responsibility to choose.  So deep is His love and so precious that principle the He, who was conscious of the consequences required that we choose...freedom is precarious, difficult, but we had learned that the alternatives to love and freedom of choice cannot provide the climate for growth and creative capacity that can eventually lead us to a a stewardship like our Father's."

Why does God allow bad things to happen? Because he loves us. He knew we would hurt. That sometimes we would fail. That we would lose those we loved. He could keep us safe, but he loves us enough to let us go, to let us live, to let us learn, to let us grow.

(to be continuted...)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Retreating


Blogging for 4 years has revealed some things to me about myself.  The first being my consistency for inconsistency...but I already knew that, so that's not really a revelation.  But what I didn't know about myself is that when life punches me in the gut--or even jabs with its left a little--I retreat somewhere inside myself.  Not forever, but for a little while.

When the earth suddenly shifts, I am not ready to talk about it.  Not really to anyone.  Not in depth.  I just need to think.  To find that sure place inside me while the initial shock sorts out and the remaining dust settles around me.  That's where I've been for a little while.  Someplace quiet, waiting for things to settle.

We are in the midst of job changes again.  AGAIN.  (Argh)  Poor Mr. Wicke is the hardest working man I know, but these last few years have been a struggle.  (What?  Not just us?)  This time, due to government cutbacks (which we support, by the way) the research project of which he has been apart for Homeland Security--which was supposed to be a 6-year $4 million dollar grant--disappeared with government cutting educational research by 81%.  For us that means that about half of our income disappeared with it.  We have about 6 months to figure this out.

Did you feel the earth shift?  Shhhh...I need to think.

I've even gotten a little quiet with God.  Probably not a great thing, but like I told Him in prayer, I don't know how to pray about this any more.  I'm tired...and the words get all jumbled up with frustration.  I'm figuring it out in that quiet place inside me.  When I get clear, I will be ready to speak.  Maybe that is what all this quiet is about...just listening.  Hearing in the stillness.

Or maybe it's pride...
and anger...

Maybe it's all of it all at the same time.  That's what I mean about settling.  I'm waiting to see what remains when all those emotions fall away and I can hear my guiding voice again.  It's still there.  Somewhere inside myself.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Help Wanted

I have been asked to present a short class in October about fun and unique ways to do or participate in family history (aka genealogy/family lineage.)  I hope they are serious about fun and unusual ways, because I don't know a thing about serious genealogy.  I do, however, have a love for family stories, family recipes, old family pictures, and capturing today's moments for tomorrow.  That'll be my focus.  I think.  I haven't figured it all out.  That's where you come in: 

Do you have any ideas that you would like to share?  Or opinions?  I'd love to hear them. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Entrepreneurial Spirit/How to Raise a Capitalist

Yes.  She came up with the catch phrase "The Best in the West."  She knows a little something about advertising.

Well.  I was right.  The lemonade stand left me exhausted.  For those of you with Facebook friends from Arizona, you know it is still a million degrees here.  At least.  I find any excuse to avoid leaving the house, so Friday afternoon's many, many, many, trips outdoors (I knew it was coming) was slight torture.  By the end I was a sweaty, dehydrated mess.  I was so exhausted that my idea of making dinner was pulling leftovers out of the fridge and serving them on paper plates.  (Lucky Mr. Wicke.)

But this little girl?  Happy.  Gorgeously happy.



She was so cute pulling out the table, setting up the umbrella, getting her supply wagon all ready to go.  She took it really seriously.  No kidding around. 




And, can you believe she made $21.00???  What?  Selling glasses of lemonade and cookies for 25 cents each? 

I'd post more, but I've got to get outside and get a lemonade stand set up.  Forget the kids.  I need some bookshelves for my bedroom!

Friday, September 2, 2011

MOTY, Here I Come!

So...I don't know if anyone's noticed, but I have been posting like a real blogger lately.  Real regular and everything.  I haven't done 11 posts in one month in at least a year and a half.  If I could chart that phenomenon in concert with my baby's age, I think we might see some connection.  That's just a theory.  I can't prove it because I don't know how to use Excel...or whatever program would make a chart like that.  I just learned how to use Picasa.  I am on a need to no basis with technology.

But that's not what I meant to be posting about.  What I started to say is that I have been posting like a real blogger.  I even included pictures.  Any day now I am going to get my own TV show like The Pioneer Woman, I'm pretty sure of it.

But not today.  Nope.  'Cause today I am busy trying to win mother of year.  (Would somebody please nominate me already?)  Here's what I'm busy doing instead of blogging like a real big time blogger.  (Thank you to the 5 people who read my blog, by the way.)  I am making lemonade and chocolate chip cookies this morning because Logan insists on running a lemonade stand the minute she gets off the bus.  She passed out fliers and everything, and I have to have the table "ready to go!"  Her goal is to make enough money to buy the yoga dog calendar from the school fundraiser catalogue.  A mother of the year doesn't mess with dreams like that, so I am going to have those cookies baked, gosh darn it!

Then I have to get the baby down for his nap at 1:00 pm sharp (I am sure this will run smoothly, of course) so he will sleep while Mr. Wicke works from home so that I can go to school and volunteer in Logan's classroom.  I ran into her teacher while making copies at the school for the PTSO Smoothie Fundraiser today (seriously, where is that nomination?) and she mentioned how she needs files organized and a bulletin board done...and well, I happen to be really gifted at bulletin boards.  (Ahem, I think that is a qualification category for MOTY--that's Mother of the Year to lay people.)  But seriously, I can really rock a bulletin board.  I don't know if that's an actual major at college, but if it were...Master's program, here I come!

Anyway, after that, I'm going to rush right home, and make sure everything is ready to go so that I can spend the next hour making a thousand trips between the house and the front yard while being bossed around by the lemonade stand coordinator.  Then I'll spend the hour after that cleaning up, after which I will make dinner and clean that up, too.  And if I don't get nominated by then, well, then I guess I have no other choice but to go back to being a big time blogger (hi mom!) because this mothering gig is wearing me out.

And that is why I am not writing a real post today or including pictures.  Ah nuts!  There went my TV show!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Pants

This morning Griffin's pants were too short.  And when I say pants, I mean  ALL of his pants.  What started with "Hey Griff, I have some bad news..."

"What?"

"Your pants are too short.  You're going to have to change them.  I know.  I know.  But it's your own fault.  You grew last night.  Stop doing that."

...turned into a minor fashion show in his bedroom.

"Nope.  Those are too short, too."

"What about these?"

"Yeah.  Those should work.  I think I just bought those...What?!  They are too short, too?  What size are they?  They are size eight.  They should fit.  Are you pulling them up to your armpits?  No?  Alright.  That's it.  You are in big trouble, mister!  How dare you grow out of all your pants?!"

At this point, his sister joined us.  "Am I in trouble, too?"

"Yes.  As a matter of fact you are both in very big trouble because neither of you will listen to me.  How many times do I have to say it?  STOP GROWING!"  They love this monologue.  They think it is soooo funny, and what good am I if I can't be funny once in a while.

"We can't help it!" they argue.

"Oh, really!  Well then I'll just have to take matters into my own hands, won't I?  Maybe I'll make you walk around with something super heavy on your heads.  That'll do it.  Ooh yeah, and then I'll chain some cannon balls to your ears.  So what if you're a hunchback?  I gotta' do what I gotta' do if you're not going to listen already..."  I could do this bit all day.

Except that I have to go buy my guy some pants... 

You know what they say about a joke.  That there is a germ a truth at the heart of it?  Well, there is that teeny tiny (not so tiny) part of me that really does wish they would stop growing--just for a minute--and let me catch my breath already.  Does it really have to go this quickly?  Most of the time I feel like their childhood is water running through my fingers, when I just want to catch it, hold onto it, and admire it for a minute.

Last spring, when I attended Women's Conference, singer/songwriter Hillary Weeks shared a little phrase during her performance that has tumbled around in my brain since then.  She said that over the breakfast table one morning, the thought occurred to her that we are privileged to know our children as children.

And she's right.  I am privileged to know these little people.  They will be adults before I know it.  They will spend the majority of their lives in big bodies with big problems and big worries.  But for now, I get to witness their joy and, perhaps, their spirits in their purest forms, before the awkwardness of teenage years, before the struggle of adulthood.  I get to witness hope undefiled.  I get to witness faith without cynicism.  I get to witness love without conditions.  I get to witness their childhood.

I only wish it lasted a bit longer.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bookclub 101

Last night was bookclub at my house.  I love gathering with smart women and discussing literature.  Good food--like Black Forest ham and brie croissants, strawberry spinach salad, and lemon cake--never hurts either.  But critiquing plot pacing, character development, voice and learning something about history in the process is enlightening to my mind.  It gets those neurons firing again, and I love that feeling. 

It almost reminds me of my college days, well...except for the two year old who, in the middle, yelled from the top of the stairs, "I have my shirt!  My clothes!" and indeed he did.  Many of his clothes in his arms, waving his shirt like a title of liberty.

A few minutes later, disgruntled by my lack of enthusiasm, he was in the middle of the room, "My shirt!  I got my shirt!"

"Yes.  I see.  Go show your daddy!"

He disappeared only momentarily.  Next he wanted to show us a giant dog bed that he dragged in from the family room.  After that he came in and dropped an armload of his favorite toys in the middle of the floor.  "Look!" he crowed.

"Uh, Thomas?" was my reply.

Like I said, almost like my college days.  Almost.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mourning

Yesterday we lost a beloved aunt.  It was not altogether unexpected.  She has been ill for some time, and her body was tired, but that does not make it easier for those of us who will miss her.  My heart has been heavy for her children and her husband who face that gaping hole in their lives and hearts.  I feel some of that myself.

It isn't that I doubt that there is life after death.  That piece of faith has always been anchored deeply in my soul.  Other things I may question, but not an eternal existence.  I will see my aunt again, along with my dear father, grandmothers, grandfathers and my sweet nephew whom we lost all too soon.  What I find myself mourning today is this changing of the guard that we are experiencing.  This loss of our sages, the mother hens of our youth, the pillars of our family, the storytellers, the teachers.  They are going and leaving us on our own for a while. 

And as they drift out of our sight, over the edge of the unknown, my life feels emptier without them.  But I wholly acknowledge--as I recollect my youth, my time in their homes, their laughter, their boundless love and affection--that the emptiness I feel now only comes from a richness of which they played a great part.

I will miss you, Aunt Kathleen, but I am better for being loved by you, and that is what I will remember until I see you again.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Climb


To the southwest, between Cowley and Byron there are what are known as The Sandhills.  Only now, as an adult, do I wish I had asked Kurt Talbot--a local geologist at one point--what formed them or why they are there.  To my adult eye, they seem quite a mystery, so unusual is their composition, but as a child I simply accepted their existence as our playground of sorts. 

My family spent a lot of time driving through and playing in The Sandhills.  Grandma Doty lived in Byron, and more often than not we made our way to her house through the dusty dirt roads of The Sandhills, sitting on the tailgate of a truck.  Those were the days when children were still allowed wicked, partly dangerous fun.  Our favorite tailgate game went like this:  Before leaving home, each of us would choose a toy--favorites, as I remember, were army men or tanks--and tie them to one end of a long string.  Once we hit The Sandhills we'd throw them out, and holding onto the other end of the string, drag them as far as they could make it.  The one whose toy lasted the longest was declared the winner.  Only once was there a near accident when Ken conducted an amature scientific experiment.  Apparently he'd lost his toy early on and had too much time to think.  In his young mind he began postulating that if he jumped off the truck backwards, running mid-air, he could, quite possibly, continue running once his feet hit the ground.  He always was sort of a strange kid.  Anyway, he soon found his theory dashed as he jumped, hit the ground, rolled, skidded, and landed in a dusty heap, the rest of us gaping in horror and surprise. The next thing I remember was him sitting on grandma's kitchen table, while mom bathed, cleaned, and bandaged his multiple scrapes.

That is the only time any of us got really hurt in The Sandhills.  The rest of my memories there are happy.  We had a lot of Easter Egg hunts in The Sandhills.  Their curious, sandstone formations made for fantastic hiding spots.  We hiked Castle Rock more times than I can count, inching our way through the crevice though there is an easier climb on the backside.  Somehow, to me, the view from the top is made sweeter by experiencing the claustrophobia of the crevice.  On a few of those trips, I carved my name in the rock at the top, along with everyone else in the area.  It serves as a veritable yearbook up there.  "Steve & Rhonda Forever.  Curt '85.  Travis 1991."  Hundreds of names and memories for the perusing. 

But the memory at Castle Rock that makes me giggle the most is the Memorial Day sometime in the early 80's when Ken, for whatever reason, brought along the giant, orange, plastic trumpet that resided many years in our basement.  I don't know where we got it.  Probably from some sporting event is my guess, but that thing really could blow,  especially when played by someone who was a fine trombonist.  Anyway, once we got to the top, we could see there were still visitors at the Byron Cemetery looking like mere ants to us hundreds of feet away.  No matter.  Ken stood on the top of that mountain and blew a few long, loud blasts, like some sort of angel announcing the Second Coming of Christ.  We watched as heads turned, looking for the source of such an announcement.  Surely it was not a reverent thing to do, but we thought we were very funny.  Our mother was not as amused.

Many afternoons were also spent at Slide Rock.  It was a popular keggar site, as witnessed by the burnt out ashes and myriad of broken glass bottles nearby, but for our family it was a kind of homemade amusement park.  "And why is this fun?  That's right!  Because it's free!"  Using pieces of cardboard as a sled, we took turns riding the well worn rut in the rock.  After a few turns, the sand started to break loose a bit and the path could get speedy.  One had to remember to wear old clothes to Slide Rock, as at least one person would always go home with a torn out behind.

As a teenager I played kick the can at Court House Rock.  I wish I could describe these places.  They seem to me other worldly, like something out of Luke's home planet in Star Wars.  It was a marvelous place to play Kick the Can.  This huge rocky structure surrounded by ridges, and divots, and indentions perfect for hiding, voices echoing back and forth off the walls.  Wonderful fun.

The Sandhills were also the site of the oldest joke in our family.  The ascent to The Sandhills from Cowley begins as you turn off the Cannery Road.  The pavement ends and the climb begins.  It levels out, momentarily as you cross the canal, but the final climb is steep, hugging the north side of the hill until the top where a severe right turn leads you to the flat mesa across the top.  Right there, there is a rock formation that, as far as I know, has no name.  It is large and rectangular.  To me it looks like a giant loaf of bread.  (But I love bread, so maybe that's just my belly talking.) Anyway, the reason this is important is because going the other direction, down into Cowley, and because of that severe turn, the road can look like it runs right into that giant rock formation.  And my dad loved, LOVED, taking newbies home that way, convincing them the whole time that he had lost his way in the dark.  "Boy.  I am not sure this is the right road.  Lee?  What do you think?"  He'd really play it up.  "The thing is, there is one road out here that leads to a dead end.  We sure don't want to be on that road.  If you're not careful, you can run right off the side of this thing...No.  We're fine."  Then he would kick up the speed just as we were approaching the turn, and it was some one's job to yell, "Dad!  Look out!" and scream just as the rocks came into sight.  Dad would "swerve to miss them" but actually make the turn down that steep decline.  For a brief moment, it did seem like we were roadless, and the poor guy in the back thought it was all over.  Obviously we are sick people, but we never got tired of that joke.  The more fear we could inflict, the harder we laughed.  We were all the newbie at one point.  In our family you had to learn how to take a joke.

The Sandhills are full of memories for me.  Wonderful, happy memories that define much of my childhood.  I think it is that way for all my family, nieces and nephews included.  Can there be childhood without The Sandhills?  I hope I never know, so we took our children there again on this trip.  This time to Castle Rock.  Even the baby made it up the monster.  It's not an easy climb, and when you get to the top there are no safety rails.  As a parents we see this hike a bit differently now, to which my brother Curt's constant worry can attest.  It is full of risks.  That is true.  "Be smart, and be safe," I repeated to the children.  But I remember this climb as a child.  Just like Logan I, too, was worried about the crevice.  Were we going to make it?  And if so, how were we then going to get down?  And just like her I climbed anyway.  She faced down her fear.  She felt the comraderie of her family. She made it to the top and carved her name in the rock to prove it.  She was proud of herself.  They all were.  Just like I was as a kid, in this place I love:  The Sandhills.

 Not all of us, but some:  Curt and his girls, Me, Thomas and our kids.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Adventure

The Hikers: Joe, Lauren, Devin, Griffin, Logan, Lincoln, Kaysie, Jamie, Max, Jacob, Hudson, and Cari.

There is a little place up in the Pryor Mountains above Cowley called The Ice Caves.  As a child, I heard my brothers tell of "going to the ice caves" with their friends, but in all the years I lived there, I had never been.  Last year, the day before leaving, I said as much to my brother Joe.

"What!?" he sputtered, as if I had just told him I had never breathed.  "Okay.  Next year when you come back, we're going to the Ice Caves."

I don't always believe my brother, Joe.  It's not that he lies, it's just that he is the eternal optimist and doesn't always foresee the realities that can get in the way.  "Okay...you promised.  I'm going to hold you to it," I warned.

This year, he was as good as his word.  We made it to The Ice Caves, and, as it happens in our family, it became something of an event:

"Ice Caves.  Tonight.  4 o'clock.  You comin'?"

"I don't know..."

"C'mon!"

"Okay.  Sure.  We'll go."

This conversation occurred when anyone walked into Mom's kitchen, and the "we'll" turned into 18 people and a picnic supper.

Now, I did say Joe was the eternal optimist.  "We'll leave around 4:00 and be back by 8:00," he assured us.

Uh huh.  Due to a road closure, terrible roads, Devin's (my nephew) failure to gas up, and Randy's (my other brother) old man driving, we got home at 11:00.  In that amount of time, we could have driven the entire length of the state.

Halfway there, Devin says, "I don't know if I'm going to have enough gas to get back."

"What?  Why didn't you fill up?"

"I didn't know we were going to have to go through Bridger.  This is taking forever."

"Well, you better stop, leave the car here, and we'll ride with someone else so you can make it back."

We loaded our group in with Cari and Jacob, leaving Devin's vehicle in the middle of nowhere until we could return.  In total we crowded 9 people into the suburban.  Devin and I shared a seat.  It was cozy to say the least, and maybe there was a tiny bit of complaining.

"Why is Randy driving so slow???" I whined as we watched him carefully maneuver around yet another giant pothole.  We were, literally, inching our way up the mountain.

"Can't you get around him?" voiced another.

"I think I could actually walk faster.  I'm not kidding."

"You know Karen's got be having a fit.  They love their car."

"You know she's going to have to wash it and vacuum it out tonight."

"Well she's waving.  That's a good sign."

"How much longer?" a child cried from the back.

"Maybe forever," an adult answered.

"Are you sure this is the right way?"

"I don't know."  The roads are not only primitive to say the least but also completely unmarked.  It is just a seemingly random spattering of dirt roads that cross each other once every several miles.

"It doesn't seem right.  It seems like we should have caught up with the others by now."

"I don't know.  I'm just following Randy."

"Yes.  We know.  He's taking forever."

"I am losing it back here."

Finally we arrived and unpacked the food.  The scenery was gorgeous, and for some reason fried chicken always tastes better in the mountains.

Top Left: The whole gang.  Top Right:  Devin, my seat buddy.  Bottom Left: Lincoln chowing down.  Bottom Right:  Karen and Randy.

After our bellies were full, we recovered our humor and were ready to set out on the short hike to the cave.  Now, dear reader, I have questioned how--or even if--I should share this part of the story.  However, I feel the deep need to explain Griffin's lack of pants in some of these photos.  All I shall say on the topic is this:  He started the trip with pants.  But, just as we were preparing to hike, there was a not so small accident in the outhouse.  Okay?  And after spending some time in there with him and suffering what I can only explain as a giggling fit of hysteria, I determined that we should simply dispose of them.  So no pants.  Or socks for that matter.  Thank heavens for the extra length on his borrowed jacket.  That is all I will say about that.

The hike to the caves was an easy jaunt on a dirt path, but it provided views that gave, and I shall quote Anne Shirley here, "scope for the imagination," which was just what I needed after the outhouse.  Wildflowers danced on every side, and pine trees stretched as far as the eye could see.  When Griffin and I finally caught up with the others, they had already descended to the cave.  Logan could hardly contain her excitement.  "Mom!  Mom!  Come look at this!" she called.

It was a curiosity of nature.  The temperature dropped 30 degrees once you stepped inside.  The floor was covered in ice, and frozen stalactites dripped from the ceiling.  My brother pointed out the hole in the floor near the back that connects to the lower room of the cave.  They have covered it over with a grate, but word has it you can get a key in the town of Bridger if you want to explore it.  I don't know if that's true, but I wouldn't put it past 'em.  Wyoming's funny like that.

All too soon it was time to head back home.  The sun was setting and we had a long drive ahead of us, which, according to Logan, was the only negative of the whole adventure.

Up from the cave.

 


But I have to say I didn't mind it at all.  I loved every minute of it. Thanks to my big brother, I finally saw The Ice Caves, and it was an adventure to remember.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Activities


On one of our first days in Cowley, we experience what arguably was the highlight of the trip:  An Evening at the Gams' Longhorn Ranch.  My longtime friend, Shelly, drove down from Billings, MT and met us at her parents' house to take the kids horseback riding, BB gun shooting, and haystack climbing.  Her dear mother, Sylvia, cooked up some yummies, and we finished the evening with an outdoor barbecue in their lovely backyard.  As I sat back in the soft glow of the sunset eating my s'more and looking out over Johnnie's alfalfa field, newly cut, viewing the sandhills in the distance meeting that crystalline blue sky, I concluded that it was just about a near perfect day.  And my children concluded that they wanted to move there and live in the country.  I can't say that I blame them.  It is a lovely way to live.  The older I get, the more I am drawn to wide, open spaces.


Maybe someday...  But, back at the ranch (quite literally):  Although Logan desperately wanted to ride the sorrel, they thought the white horse, Rocky, would be a better fit for her, and it wasn't long before she fell head over heels in love with that horse.  She came home to Arizona talking about her boyfriend Rocky.  And every time we would drive by the farm, she would wave and call out, "Hello, Rocky!"  Now she is talking about taking horseback riding lessons.  I have to admit, she kind of took to it like a duck to water.


I don't know if there could by anything better for a 10 year old girl than a horse.  And just look at my boy.
 

Does he not look like he was born in the wrong century? Shelly loaned him her BB gun for the rest of our vacation, and he had a ball! And though it would surprise some people, he was unusually responsible with it. Not one accident or cracked window at Grandma's house. Turns out, he's a pretty good shot.


It was a full day of fun!  Catch Shelly in some of these photos.  She really made it an adventure for them.  What a trooper!


And though they would probably hate me for it, here are our hosts: 


John and Sylvia, we can't thank you enough for opening your home to us. It was a delight and my kids will remember it always. Many thanks to you!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Friends

Maybe I've talked about these guys before.  These are just some of my favorite people--my peeps, as they say--from my college days.  The ones that make the whole world a little brighter.  After our stay at my sister's, we spent a couple of days with my friend Jen and some of our nearby friends who joined us.  I was only supposed to stay overnight, but Jen can talk me into pretty much anything.  This time it was remaining an extra day.  Admittedly, it wasn't a very difficult job for her, and my mom was gracious enough not to hold the delay against me.  After all, she loves these people, too.  In fact, they might be as much her peeps as they are mine.  The thing about having these kinds of friends, friends that have known me thaaaat long, is that they help me remember my soul, the person that I really am as well as the person I dream of becoming.  And in addition to all that, they make me laugh.  Really hard.  Our children got along famously, and our two days went by all too quickly.  The only trouble with these friends is that I don't see them often enough.

And for more entertainment, Jen and I took the kids to Casa Bonita's.  If you've ever been to Denver, please tell me you've been to Casa Bonita's.  I hadn't been there since I was a kid, and it was like stepping back into a dream.  It is exactly the same!  Sure the food is nothing to rave about, but, c'mon!  Divers tableside?  And the caverns!  Don't get me started.  The kids loved it as much as I did so many years ago.  We explored and really got our money's worth, I'll tell ya.  (And don't mind Griffin's sneer in the photos.  That's his thing right now.  You know that thing.  It's the thing a kid does suddenly and inexplicably which has the potential to drive a parent nuts, but she pretends she doesn't see it in hopes that it will just disappear like another passing phase...  Yeah.  That thing.)



Monday, August 22, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Sister

Jason (Cindi's son), Cindi, and me

My sister is 20 years older than me.  That means she was out of the house and married before I was born.  That means we didn't grow up together.  We didn't share clothes, secrets, fights, or bathrooms.  It's not your average sisterly relationship, I suppose.  Throughout my life people have asked if it feels more like having a second mom.  I guess that would be a logical conclusion, but my answer is always no.  Even though my nephew, her son, is pretty much my age, she is my sister.  The only sister I'll ever know, and she has always been great to me.

I give her all the credit for forging a sisterly relationship when she didn't have to.  By some magic, she always made me feel like an equal.  She talked to me like my thoughts mattered.  She gave me great advice about all the things older sisters know:  hair, makeup, fashion, posture, weight, boys, dating, and friends, but she didn't try to raise me.  She was patient and withheld her judgement, even in my super awkward years.  She let me raid her closet when I came to visit, and still does.  (She has a great closet, by the way.)

I loved visiting my sister.  In my opinion, she was the coolest grownup I knew.  She was so pretty and smart and independent, and perhaps one of the funniest people on the planet.  She was fashionable and talented, and she lived in the city and listened to loud music in the car.  She was really, really cool, and I watched everything she did with interest.  She let me spend a few weeks with her and her family every summer. (Which, looking back on it as an adult, was no small thing considering how full her hands already were.)  She didn't have to do that, but she did so that we could know one another.  And even though I was nearly the same age as her children, she somehow met me where I was and treated me like a sister.  That was some trick of magic that I still don't understand.  I can just tell you that she did it and still does.

Can you believe that she will call me and say, "I need your advice on something."  That's the kind of thing I'm talking about.  I don't really think she needs my advice, but I'm totally flattered that she would say that she did.  She's done a million little things like that for me, and she's done a lot of big things, too.

There was the time when she paid to have my car fixed when I was in college.  That was big.  And then she let me have my wedding reception at her house when she was hurrying to finish up a remodel.  That was huge.  And then she traveled hundreds of miles just to see me in a play.  I'll never forget that.  But the times that mean the most to me, were those when I was really hurting, really needing help, and I knew I could run to her.  When, during my second year of college, I was feeling undo pressure from a guy to get engaged and I wasn't sure how to handle it, her house was my escape for a few days.  Years later, when I was struggling in my young marriage, I limped to her home to lick my wounds.  In both cases, she just opened her door, let me stay as long as I needed, listened, withheld any judgement, didn't tell me what I should do, just talked with me and assured me that I was going to be okay.  Her uncanny ability to unconditionally love and accept me gave me the courage to find my own way.

And, I mean, I don't know.  I don't have a lot of experience with your usual sister relationships, but I think that's what sisters are supposed to do.  At least that's the way it is with mine, and I'm so glad.  So very, very glad.

This year summer we played a few days at her house, cousins included:

Thanks again, Sis, for everything.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The People

For these guys?  I'd go anywhere.  They are that great in my book.

Siblings with Mom.  From left:  Joe, Randy, Me, Mom, Cindi, Ray, Ken, Curt.
(This isn't the best photo we took.  Don't worry.  There's one where we're all actually looking at the camara.   I'm just waiting for a copy from my brother...hint, hint...)

Mom and her girls.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Love Tour 2011: The Sights, part II


photo credit: travelpod.com
Wind River Canyon, Wyoming

I'll never forget bringing an LA friend of mine home to Cowley and showing her some of the local sites. We hiked to waterfalls, saw Devil's Canyon, climbed Castle Rock, watched the wild Mustangs, and standing in the middle of nowhere, clutching her Kate Spade bag, she gushed, "I can't believe this place! You're close to everything!" And we are, I suppose. Just a different kind of everything. We're close to the earth, and sometimes, as it stretches wide over us, we're close to the sky. Now that I've been away a few years, it's an everything I can't get enough of. I want to drink in each rise, field, cloud, and blade of grass. I have missed Wyoming.

Missed it so much that I watch carefully as the scenery changes outside my windshield passing first through the rolling cattle pastures of the southeast corner of the state. Grey clouds threatening another rainstorm only intensify the green fields where cows and baby calves stand peacefully munching. At some unidentifiable point on our passage northward, the surrounding terrain becomes a bit more rugged. The rolling quality of land no longer rolls so much as slopes and points. The ground angles toward the enormous sky like a mad wave, and rocky masses protrude from the ground. The grass becomes tinged with a bit of yellow and the sagebrush becomes denser, as though the artist of the scene became a bit carried away with dotting those silver green bushes across the canvas. Then just to add some more color, he drew in some wild alfalfa springing randomly along the road side, their purple and yellow blossoms nodding in the wind. It is a land perfectly created for the antelope and deer, which we randomly passed.

Then, soon enough, we are careening through the Wind River Canyon, the river writhing and sparkling beside us.  I have always loved this canyon, its winding path between sky high, rocky walls, and maybe it is the closest I have come to understanding those serenity mazes which are supposed to lead one to his/her center.  As we wind our way through its twists, turn, and three tunnels, I travel backward in my mind to the many, many times I have been this way before; on school buses, on family vacations, on my way to college, the trips tick off in my memory...always away, but always home again.  Centered.  Still.  At peace.

After the canyon, the farmlands of the Basin take center stage.  Alfalfa, wheat, bean, corn and sugarbeat fields turn the arid desert green.  Only the irrigation ditches stand as reminders of the hard fought battle these farmers wage.  Today the landscape is gorgeous.  I am not a farmer's daughter, so there is much I do not know, but to this unpracticed eye, the crop looks to be a good one:  healthy, tall, and thick, even at the edges.  I wish them a blessing, these fields, the backbone of this area's economy and the produce of our nation.  Sometimes, on days like today, when the sun is shining low in the horizon and that golden light slants sideways kissing the leaves and stalks of the field, I romanticise about moving to a farm, maybe buying a cow and some chickens.  It is easy to think that life would be so much simpler, so much more centered, so much more peaceful, but then I remember my dying garden back home.  It doesn't look anything like these fields, and I have to take my hat off to the keepers of them.  They rise at farmers' hours--that's "so early it's practically night" for people like me; they strain and sweat; they gamble against rain, wind, frost, and heat, not to mention pests; they get by most of the time, and then they do it all again next year.  Farmers don't get enough credit in my estimation.  Tonight, as I pray over the corn on the cob, the green salad, and the string beans (not to mention the sugar) I think I'll thank God for the farmers.

The fields stretching into the distance on either side of the highway are only interrupted once, and this interruption--the ugliest stretch of our entire drive--signals the nearing end of our trip.  Turning onto highway 310 and heading toward Lovell from Greybull, there is little visual interest and a lot of dirt.  Even by some evil trick of landscape the mountains seem to disappear.  On every rise I find myself scanning the distance to see if I can catch of glimpse of my hometown.  At last she is in view, and I joyously call out, "See the water tower, guys?  Okay...see the big white tower with the steam coming out?  That's Lovell's sugarbeat factory.  Now look just beyond it.  See the white watertower?  That's Cowley!  Just about a half hour now."  And just like that we are back in the land of farmers' fields and mountains.  The Big Horns and Pryor Mountain stand sentinels as we ramble downhill into the valley.

My little hometown has undergone a facelift these last two years.  The new high school is the first sight to greet us, brashly claiming its territory among the empty fields that surround it.  I'm used to the town kind of sneaking up on me, but this big ol' building practically jumps on us as we curve into town.  I like it; it's just going to take some getting used to.  That and some trees, I think.  Once I get passed it, I can't help but notice that the new subdivision continues to grow.  Some beautiful homes have popped up on the edge of town.  It's good to see.  And then, just when things are looking as I remembered, I nearly miss the curve gaping at the big, brick house going up on Tucker's hill.  That's a showstopper, I'll tell you.  I make the curve, despite my rubbernecking, but it isn't two seconds and I am ogling the new Cowley downtown.  It's wide sidewalks and newly planted trees; the stone and log breezeway in front of all the businesses.  It's really gorgeous!  So gorgeous that I nearly forget to turn into my mother's driveway; I am so accustomed to driving to the end of the block to u-turn around the median, which is no longer there, that I am not quite sure what to do for a moment.  Old habits die hard, and changes are never easy to make.

I sit there, in my mother's driveway for a moment feeling a little foreign in this once so familiar place.  The kid's scramble out, and I slowly slide from behind the wheel.  Changes are good I remind myself.  Certainly good for this place that I love, but it does make me feel out of place...That is until a familiar face drives by and throws me a wave.  Some things--perhaps the most important things here--never change after all.  I have come home.

photo credit: Gary Little via myfamily.com
Cowley, Wyoming Mainstreet, Today